JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Jazz Piano (VOLUME 1)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Jelly Roll Morton (p) solos Richmond, Indiana; July, 1923 and 1924
Grandpa’s Spells (2:38) (Jelly Roll Morton)
Shreveport Stomp (2:51) (Morton)
Kansas City Stomps (3:00) (Morton)
Stratford Hunch (2:50) (Morton)
Bucktown Blues (2:58) (Boyd Senter)
Big Foot Ham (2:56) (Morton)
Perfect Rag (2:41) (Morton)
Tom Cat Blues (3:05) (Morton)
It is one of the peculiarities of recorded jazz that it is quite possible for a body of music to become famous and at the same time remain virtually unknown – or at least virtually unheard. The paradox is simple enough to explain, by examining perhaps the most celebrated case in point: the piano solos reissued in this collection and in its companion volume (Riverside RLP1041).
By now it is generally recognized that Jelly Roll Morton is one of the most significant figures in the history of jazz. He was a complex, flamboyant and often infuriating personality, and during his lifetime his majestic ego tended to make detached critical evaluation of his work almost impossible. But 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 difficult to se such remarks as no more than one revealing facet of the total man-and-musician), and to appreciate that jazz bands, and a pianist, he was capable of monumental and lasting achievements.
Morton’s solo recordings total about forty sides (exclusive of the piano-and-conversation documentary made for the Library of Congress not long before his death), plus a handful of piano rolls. Of this group, about half were made in the early 1920s, mostly for the Gennett label. These are the “famous but unknown” records. Made within the first two years after Jelly Roll reached Chicago, they belong to one of the most interesting periods in a consistently fascination life.
Behind him lay and 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 drawn so many New Orleans jazzmen northward – by rather more direct routes in most cases – and which was rapidly becoming the scene of an unsurpassed “golden Age” of jazz. Ahead lay the many great orchestral creations he was to record with varying groups of musicians 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 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, for the most part, mark the first setting down of many of his most notable compositions. They were already clearly defined works, but far from static; he was obviously still in a creative ferment.
It is, therefore, not at all surprising that these are records with great reputations. Merely to think of the musical possibilities inherent in the situation has always been enough to work a good many jazz enthusiasts up to something approaching fever pitch. But – to return to the thesis with which these notes began – this LP will actually provide the first opportunity for a great many people to hear these solos.
For it is unfortunately true that there is little logical relationship between talent and availability in recorded jazz. It is some thirty years since these sides were first issued; it is nearly twenty years since the company that released them went out of business. A few favored specialists have a treasured original copy or two; some collectors were able t pick up some of the unauthorized, “bootleg” dubbings of some of these numbers that were floating around a few years ago. But for most people, the Jelly Roll Morton Gennetts have until now remained only a legend and a promise.
As for the music itself: without minimizing the work of the many able critics who have written and will continue to write dissections of Jelly’s melodic construction, improvisational methods and technical skills, in the last analysis it seems quite satisfactory 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 has also the unique fusion of all these elements into something that can best be called an identity all its own. This is rare enough quality in any art. When it is present, one glimpse of painting, or reading one paragraph, or hearing just a few notes, enables you to know, without doubt, whose work you are encountering. It has nothing in common with a mere self-conscious striving to be “different”; it is something instinctive and inevitable in the artist. In 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 was equally and superbly distinctive.
A note on the original recordings. Grandpa’s Spells and Kansas City Stomps, which bear the respective master numbers 11544 and 11545 and were first issued together on Gennett 5218, were recorded on July 18, 1923, the second of two days on which Jelly Roll was in the Gennett studios with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. (He apparently played on four of the eight numbers they cut at these sessions, and also made a total of six solos.) The other six selections here are from what surely music have been close to an unparalleled day of work. On June 9, 1924, Morton returned to Richmond to turn out, at one sitting, twenty masters! Eleven tunes were involved; the master and original-label numbers of those reissued here are: Shreveport Stomp (11908). Stratford Hunch (11915) on Ge 5590; Big Foot Ham (11912) on Ge 5552; Bucktown Blues (11913) / Tom Cat Blues (11914) on Ge 5515; and Perfect Rag (11917), last number of the day, Ge 5486.
The slight 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 faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
Other Long-Playing (33 3/1rpm) Jelly Roll Morton: Recording on Riverside
RLP-1018 Rediscovered Jelly Roll Morton Solos (from rare piano rolls)
RLP-1027 Jelly Roll Morton’s Kings of Jazz
RLP-1041 Jelly Roll Morton: Classic Jazz Piano: Vol. 2
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.