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The Incomparable JELLY ROLL MORTON:

Twelve of his rarest early recordings

Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
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RLP-117 118 A.jpg
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  1.  Muddy Water Blues (2:53) (Jelly Roll Morton)

  2.  High Society (3:13) (traditional)

  3.  Fishtail Blues (3:00) (Collins – Morton)

  4.  Mr. Jelly Lord (Gennett) (2:47) (Morton)

  5.  My Gal (2:34) (Frank Melrose)

  6.  Wolverine Blues (2:43) (Morton)


  1.  Mamamita (2:47) (Morton)

  2.  35th Street Blues (2:28) (Morton)

  3.  Weary Blues (2:44) (Artie Matthews)

  4.  Tiger Rag (3:13) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)

  5.  Big Fat Ham (2:49) (Morton)

  6.  Mr. Jelly Lord (Paramount) (2:55) (Morton)

   The recordings that make up this LP are some of the least known performances by one of the most celebrated and flamboyant figures in all of jazz. Originally made for several of the small record labels that flourished in and around Chicago in the 1920s, they present FERDINAND “JELLY ROLL” MORTON both alone and in combination with a variety of musicians of the era (some relatively well-known, some totally obscure, others now entirely unidentifiable). As a whole, these selections indicate a good deal of the scope and status of Jelly Roll’s music in the period just before that mid-‘20s burst of recording activity for Victor, with the various “Red Hot Peppers” groups, on which so much of his fame rests.

   At this comparatively early stage, Morton was not yet recognized as quite the monumental figure he was to become, but he was hardly to be thought of as just another piano player. He could never have been considered that – the overwhelming ego, and the overwhelming skill with which he could back up what he had to say about his own importance as a jazzman, had stamped him as a man to be reckoned with almost form the very start of his career. That start had come, of course, in that “cradle” of jazz, the New Orleans re-light district called Storyville. Morton, who was born in about 1885 (the uncertainty stems from his having specified at least three different birth-dates at various times), was a highly regarded young pianist in the very early years of the century. He then began an extended period of wandering that took him as far as Los Angeles in pursuit of the several elements of the good life, such as playing jazz, shooting pool (which Jelly liked to call – not entirely facetiously – his major interest in life), and being a heavy spender.

   Jelly Roll came to Chicago from Los Angeles in the very early ‘20s with a solid-enough reputation. But it was not too easy to make the grade in the Windy City: men like King Oliver and Jimmy Noone, who had come up directly from New Orleans, were solidly established favorites. But is of course a matter of history that Morton did very much make the grade, and he began to do it with recordings like these, which – despite pick-up lineups, sometimes odd instrumentation, and all the handicaps which early-record sound offer to the ears of today’s listeners – should make it fascinatingly clear that we are, here, in the presence of solid indications of a rare composer, pianist and all-around jazz artist.

   Seven of these dozen selections present Morton with full groups of more or less standard instrumentation. As is so often the case with earliest of jazz records, documentation tends to be dim and incomplete, but it would appear that Muddy Water Blues and Big Fat Ham were made in the Spring of 1923, and also that they were his first recordings (slightly pre-dating the first group of piano solos for Gennett). Outstanding among the men who played with him in this occasion were Natty Dominique, a forceful, if rough-toned, trumpet player who was to be one of the more notable South Side Chicago musicians of the ‘20s; and Roy Palmer. The latter, one of the very first New Orleans musicians to settle in Chicago, was also on had for the lightly later “Kings of Jazz” numbers: High Society, Fish Tail Blues, Weary Blues and Tiger Rag. These four selections, made for the extremely obscure and short-live Autograph label, also feature the driving, somewhat ‘sour’-toned (in the authentic New Orleans tradition) horn of Lee Collins. The other band number is Mr. Jelly Lord, made for Gennett with a totally unidentifiable group.

   He also made an odder version (featuring alto sax and kazoo) of Mr. Jelly Lord, for Paramount. Possibly the same unknown kazoo player gets in a few licks on My Gal, but that record and Wolverine are chiefly a collaboration between Morton and Volly DeFaut, a white clarinetist who appeared only rarely on records (he can be herd on RLP 12-107: Kid Muggsy’s Jazz, with a Muggsy Spanier group). Not only can it be considered unusual for Morton to have singled out a white musician for a role that can be described as a partial forerunner of the celebrated trio recordings Jelly Roll later made with Johnny Dodds, but it is also worth mention that, as far as can be determined, these two selections represent the first “mixed” recordings ever openly labelled as such. For DeFaut was given billing on these numbers, while on Morton’s Gennett sides with the all-white New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the only known earlier mixed recordings, Jelly had not received name credit.

There are also two piano solos, 35th Street Blues and Mamamita, the latter displaying the “Spanish tinge” so often prominent in Morton’s music.

The extreme rarely of these dozen performances has one non-musical aspect that cannot be overlooked. It must be admitted that almost all of these suffer from one “occupational disease” of rare, early recordings. They are technically limited, and there is a certain unavoidable amount of surface noise to be heard. This stems in part from the fact that in all cases the original metal parts are no longer in existence, so that shellac records were, necessarily, the source material; and some of these were obviously in worse condition than others. The utmost possible care and skill, and the finest modern engineering equipment, has been used both by Riverside and by Reeves Sound Studios in the restoring and re-recording of this material; however, there are limits beyond which one cannot go along such lines without excessively distorting the musical values. Thus it is only fair to warn the listener that this is hardly a high fidelity disc. But certainly it seems far better to present technically somewhat-less-than-perfect recordings than to omit from Riverside’s extensive reissue program these obscure and important segments of the full discographical story of the remarkable Jelly Roll Morton.

JELLY ROLL MORTON’S STOMP KINGS (Side 1, #1; side 2, #5):

Natty Dominique (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Townes (cl, as) Morton (p) Jasper Taylor (wood blocks) Chicago; Spring, 1923 Originally issued on Paramount 12050; master numbers 1435 and 1434.

JELLY ROLL MORTON’S KINGS OF JAZZ (Side 1, #2 and 3; Side 2, #3 and 4); Lee Collins (tp) Palmer (tb) Balls Ball (cl) Alex Poole (as) Morton (p) others unknown

Chicago; 1924 Originally coupled on respectively, Autograph 606 and 607;; 636/635, 637/638 JELLY ROLL MORTON’S INCOMPARABLES (Side 1, #4): unknown personnel Richmond, Indiana; February 23, 1926 On Gennett 3529; 12467

MORTON piano; Volly de Faut (cl) unknown kazoo (Side 1, #5). Omit kazoo (Side 1, #6) Chicago; 1924 On Autograph 623; 791/792

MORTON piano; with unknown (as) and (kazoo) (Side 2. #6) Chicago; April, 1924

On Paramount 20332; 8965

   The Side 1 selections have appeared on a ten-inch Riverside LP. The others are previous un-reissued.

   The full personal saga of Morton’s life and music, in his own words and performance, is contained in a twelv

e-LP set on Riverside (available singly) –

JELLY ROLL MORTON: The Library of Congress Recordings (RLPs 9001 through 9012)

   The Riverside “Jazz Archives” series of reissue albums, featuring great figures of traditional jazz, includes –

JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Solos (RLP 12-111)

NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM KINS, with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)

KING OLIVER: Back o’ Town; with Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams (RLP 12-130)


LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1923 (RLP 12-122)


NEW ORLEANS LEGENDS: Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory, Kid Rena (RLP 12-119)


   (The surface noise 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.


Cover produced and designed by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE.

Cover painting:”The Cue and the Ball,” by JACOB LAWRENCE, from the collection of Mr. Joseph H. Hirshhorn.

Some of these selections reissued by arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner.


235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.

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