JELLY ROLL MORTON / Classic Jazz Piano (VOLUME 2)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Piano solos: #4 probably recorded in Chicago; June, 1924, all others Richmond, Indiana; July, 1923 and June, 1924
1. King Porter (2:34) (Jelly Roll Morton)
2. New Orleans Joys (2:45) (Morton)
3. Wolverine Blues (3:21) (Spikes – Morton)
4. London Blues (2:56) (Morton)
5. Froggie Moore (2:48) (Spikes –Morton)
6. Jelly Roll Blues (3:07) (Morton)
7. Mamamita (2:57) (Morton)
8. Tia Juana (2:52) (Rodemich – Conley)
This is the second Riverside LP devoted to the celebrated and quite rare group of piano solos created by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton for the Gennett label - a body of music that has built up a very considerable reputation for itself during the past three decades, despite the fact that very few present-day listeners have ever heard it.
These recordings are unique and important jazz performances, clearly quite worthy of the man and of their own reputation. Certainly their return to availability should help solidify Jelly's position as one of the most significant figures in the history of jazz, a position that has become generally well-established in the period since his death in 1941 - although during his lifetime his flamboyant, magnificently egotistical and often infuriating personality managed to divert many people from recognition of his enormous jazz talents.
The Gennett sides comprise about 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 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 include 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 situations has always been enough to work a good many jazz enthusiasts up to something approaching fever pitch. But these LPs will actually provide the first opportunity for a great many people to hear these solos.
For 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 to pick up some of the unauthorized, "bootleg" dubbing 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.
These two LPs represent the sum total of Morton's solos on this label (including one - Froggie Moore - which Gennett never issued), with only two exceptions. These are: an unreleased version of Milenberg Joys (master number 11916) the master of which was a apparently destroyed long ago, so that it must be counted as irrevocably lost; and The Pearls (11547). The latter was issued (on Ge 5323), but its master was also destroyed, and Riverside was unable to come up with a copy in sufficiently good condition to be 'dubbed' in time for inclusion here. In place of these inevitable omissions there has been included a side made during the same period for the thoroughly obscure Rialto label.
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 a rare enough quality in any art. When it is present, one glimpse of a paintin’, or reading one paragraph, or hearing just a few note, 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. 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, and also cut six solos. The first two of these solos are the first selections on this LP: King Porter (master number 11537 - first issued on Gennett 5289) and New Orleans Joys (11538A - Ge 5486). These were made on July 17; on the next day Jelly produced Wolverine Blues (11546), which was released as King Porter's coupling on Ge 5289, as well as two other numbers included on the preceding Morton LP (RLP 1038) and the 'missing' Pearls. London Blues, which was Rialto 535, is believed to have been recorded in June, 1924. All four selections on Side 2 are also from that month. They are part of a mammoth June 9 session at which Jelly turned out no less than eleven tunes in one sitting. The master and original-label numbers of these four are: Froggie Moore (11909), unissued; Jelly Roll Blues (11911), Ge 5552; and Mamamita (11910) and Tia Juana (11907), coupled on Ge 3043.
This slight surface noise on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
Other Long-Playing (33 3/1 rpm) Jelly Roll Morton Recordings on Riverside
RLP-1018 Rediscovered Jelly Roll Morton Solos (from rare piano rolls)
RLP-1027 Jelly Roll Morton’s Kings of Jazz
RLP-1038 Classic Jazz Piano, Vol.1
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Gene Gogarty
RIVERSIDE RECRODS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.