JELLY ROLL MORTON
Classic Piano Solos
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
(recorded in Richmond, Indiana; July, 1923 and June, 1924)
Grandpa’s Spells (2:38)
Kansas City Stomps (3:00)
King Porter (2:34)
New Orleans Joys (2:45)
Wolverine Blues (3:21)
Jelly Roll Blues (3:07)
Shreveport Stomp (2:51)
Stratford Hunch (2:50)
Bucktown Blues (2:58)
Big Foot Ham (2:56)
Perfect Rag (2:41)
Tom Cat Blues (3:05)
These rare Gennett recordings by JELLY ROLL MORTON make up a unique and important body of music. They are clearly quite worthy of the man and of the very considerable reputation they have acquired during the past three decades. But there is unfortunately little logical relationship between talent and availability in recorded jazz. It is more than thirty years since these selections were first issued, more than twenty since the company that released them went out of business. A few favored collectors have been able to lay hands on a treasured original copy or two; some unauthorized "bootleg" dubbings were put on the market a few years ago. But until Riverside acquired rights to the catalogue of the Gennett label (one of the pioneers in jazz recording), thus making possible the reissue of material such as this, these remarkable Jelly Roll Morton solos remained, for most people, only a legend and a promise...
By now it is recognized that Ferdinand Morton is one of the most significant figures in the history of jazz. During his lifetime, his complex, flamboyant, magnificently egotistical and often infuriating personality managed to divert-many people from proper recognition of his vast talents. But he has been dead since 1941, and it is no longer very difficult to set aside the "I invented jazz" type of comment he could make so readily. Or at least it's not too difficult now to understand that such remarks are just one revealing fact of the total man-and-musician, and to appreciate that as a composer, as a pianist, he was capable of monumental and lasting achievements.
The Gennett sides comprise almost half of the total number of Morton's solo recordings. Made in the early 1920s, within the first two years after he reached Chicago, they belong to one of the most interesting periods in a consistently fascinating life.
Behind him lay an apprenticeship in New Orleans, where a setting like Storyville and the heavily ragtime-tinged influence of a pianist like Tony Jackson had first colored his style. Behind him also lay the first (though by no means the last) long stretch of wandering : through the South, as far as California, and now to the city which had already drawn so many New Orleans jazzmen to it and which was rapidly becoming the scene of an unsurpassed "Golden Age" of jazz activity. Ahead of him lay the many great orchestral creations he was to record with varying groups under the "Red Hot Peppers" name. It was at this point that he made two trips from Chicago to the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana.
He was then an artist of still-developing powers, in his early thirties, perhaps not yet quite the giant he was to become, but already able to do things with a piano that it's safe to say will never be duplicated. Among their claims to immortality is the fact that these records include the first setting-down of many of his most notable compositions (with the single exceptions of Bucktown Blues, credited to Boyd Senter, all the material on this LP was written by Morton). They were already well-defined works, but far from static; he was, clearly, still in a creative ferment.
As for the music itself: many able critics have written dissections of Jelly's melodic construction, improvisational methods, and technical skills. Nevertheless, I find it most satisfactory, in the last analysis, to let the piano speak for itself, to let the details remain matters of emotional impact on the listening ear rather than of verbalized appraisal. This is quite plainly rich, complex vital jazz: it has ragtime in it, and the blues and stomps, and the "Spanish tinge" that runs through so much of Morton's music. It also has the unique fusion of all these and other elements into something that can best be called an identity all its own. This is a rare enough quality in any art. When it is present, one glimpse of a painting, or reading a single paragraph, or hearing just a few notes, enables you to know, without the slightest doubt, whose work you are encountering. It has nothing to do with any self-conscious striving to be "different": it is something instinctive and inevitable in the artist. In classic jazz, the voices of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and the horn of Louis Armstrong have this special quality: and the touch of Jelly Roll Morton's fingers on the keys of a piano is equally and superbly distinctive.
A note on the original recordings. Morton's first trip to the Gennett studios was made in the company of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. He played on four of eight sides they produced on July 17 and 18, 1923 (see RLP12-202, noted below) and also produced six solos, five of which are reissued here and the sixth of which, The Pearls is included in Riverside's HISTORY of CLASSIC JAZZ set. King Porter (master number 11537 - first issued on Gennett 5289) and …New Orleans Joys (11538 - Ge 5486) were made on July 17; on the following day Jelly produced …Grandpa's Spells (11544) and Kansas City Stomps (11545), originally issued together on Ge 5218, and Wolverine Blues (11546), first released as King Porter's coupling on Ge 5289.
The remaining seven tunes are selected from the eleven that Morton turned out on June 9, 1924, during the course of a virtually unparalleled day's work on the recording studio. Jelly Roll Blues (11911) / Big Foot Ham (11912) made up Ge 5552; Shreverport Stomp (11908) / Stratford Hunch (11915) were coupled on Ge 5590; Bucktown Blues (11913) and Tom Cat Blues (11914) were Ge 5515; and Perfect Rag (11917), last number of the day, was issued with New Orleans Joys on Ge 5486.
Jelly Roll’s four joint efforts with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings can be heard as part of a 12-inch LP:
“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
Morton can also be heard on two Riverside 10-inch LPs:
Rediscovered JELLY ROLL ORTON Solos; transcribed from player-piano rolls (RLP 1018)
JELLY ROLL MORTON’s Kings of Jazz; his rarest recordings (RLP 1027)
Other albums in Riverside’s 12-inch Jazz Archives Series include:
A HISTORY OF CLASSIC JAZZ: five 12-inch LPs, in deluxe album package. All the great names of
traditional jazz: plus a 200,000-word essay by historian Charles Edward Smith (SDP-11)
Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)
Young FATS WALLER (RLP 12-103)
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)
JAMES P. JOHNSON: Rare Sols (RLP 12-105)
Giants of BOOGIE WOOGIE: Ammons, Lewis and Johnson (RLP 12-106)
MUGGSY SPANIER: Chicago Jazz (12-107)
MA RAINEY: Classic Blues (RLP 12-108)
The Amazing Mr. Waller: FATS WALLER – piano, organ and voice (RLP 12-109)
The Golden Age of RAGTIME (RLP 12-110)
(This material was preciously reissued as part of two 10-inchRiverside LPs; it is now available for the first time as a 12-inch album.)
Re-mastered, 1957, by Reeves Sound Studios. (The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover designed by Paul Bacon; cove photograph: Paul Weller
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.