REDISCOVERD JELLY ROLL MORTON SOLOS
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Transcribed from piano rolls by the incomparable Mr. Jelly Lord
1. Grandpa's Spells (3:21) (Morton)
2. Stradford Hunch (3:49) (Morton)
3. King Porter (2:19) (Jelly Roll Morton)
4. Dead Man Blues (3:12) (Morton)
5. Midnight Mama (3:50) (Morton)
6. Tin Roof Blues (2:58) (New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
JELLY ROLL MORTON was obviously exaggerating slightly when he once wrote that he "happened to be the creator (of jazz) in the year of 1901." The remark appeared in Down Beat in 1938, at a time when Jelly was rather down in his luck and his kind of music pretty completely out of vogue, and he might have written it partly because his who was in need of some bolstering. Normally, though, Jelly's ego was well -bolstered: he had a high opinion of himself as a personality, a composer, a musician, and a predominate influence in jazz. By and large, it was an accurate opinion.
Certainly no one else could have been so close to the literal truth in making such a statement. And the very fact that he did make such a claim is a very good clue to the sort of man he was. "Colorful" would be a mild word indeed to describe the flamboyant Ferdinand Morton and his career. He began as a piano-playing "professor" in the cribs and saloons of Storyville, the celebrated red light district was at least in part the birthplace of New Orleans jazz. And if he wasn't actually the father, he certainly had a lot to say about its early upbringing, Jelly played in just about every part of the country at one time or another, reached the peak of his influence and importance in the jazz world through his many Chicago recordings in the 1920s, and died in Los Angeles, aged 56, in 1941. although it ended in comparative obscurity, it was an exceedingly full life, with more than its share of fame and high living and truly memorable music.
It is also a life that has become well known to many, through the issuance a few years ago of several-volume set of records, "The saga of Mr. Jelly Lord" (a mammoth compendium of autobiography, piano and vocal performance, and lecture on the sources of jazz), originally recorded for the Library of Congress in 1938, by folklorist Alan Lomax. The spoken portions have also appeared in book form, edited by Lomax, as "Mr. Jelly Roll." Between them, book and records make it superfluous to offer much second-hand data on the fact and fancy of Morton's life.
Most of Jelly Roll's purely musical recorded efforts are also at least moderately familiar to followers of jazz (although unfortunately little is available these days). So it should be somewhat surprising that, at this late date, this LP can present what are actually "new" Morton solos. That, however, is exactly what these are. They are derived from the very small number of piano rolls he turned out, in 1924 and 1926, and this marks their first authorized appearance on records.
[The three solos on Side 1 were originally issued by Vocalstyle, a Cincinnati company, all in September, 1924; their respective label numbers were 50480, 50485, 50487. These rolls were probably made within a few months of the time Jelly cut similar, though far from identical, recorded solos of the same numbers, among others, for the Gennett label, in nearby Richmond, Indiana. It's interesting to note that King Porter (a stomp), rather than the later King Porter Stomp, is the way it's listed on the label; nor is Stratford Huntch a misprint - "Huntch" is repeated twice each on the label and on the roll itself, as if to emphasize this unexplained spelling. For the QRS label, he made Dead Man Blues (3674) and Midnight Mama (3675) during a brief stay in New York in 1926. They were issued in October of that year.]
Riverside Records has recently rescued from oblivion and issued other material from the long-neglected store of player piano performances by jazz and ragtime greats: Fats Waller (RLP1010 and REP 105); James P. Johnson (RLP1011); Scott Joplin (in Ragtime piano Roll; RLP1006 and REP104). But this collection of Jelly Roll Morton solos can, for several reasons, be regarded as Riverside's proudest achievement in this field.
For one thing, these rolls weren't easy to come by. It's well known that original copies of Jelly Roll's records are usually rare collector's items. Also, piano rolls by any jazz artist are hard to find (in the many years since the player piano became virtually obsolete, almost all copies of these early rolls seem to have disappeared completely). Compound these rareties, adding the fact that Jelly cut so few piano roll selections, and you have some idea of the scarcity of a Morton roll. Those that make up this LP are probably not all that he ever made, but they are very close to it.
Once tracked down (through luck and rumor as much as anything else) and listened to, though, these solos turned out to be well worth the trouble of finding. Morton's incredible brilliance as a jazz pianist is fully reflected here. Most other players, no matter how much of a "name" they might be, made for the most part what were called "word rolls." It was apparently an important selling point that these could be used for a jazzy family sing (the lyrics were printed along the right-hand side of the roll). The songs were often chosen with this purpose in mind, and the jazz improvisations of the pianist were apt to be at least partially restricted. Nothing of the sort for Ferdinand Morton, though! All of these solos except Tin Roof are, of course, selected from among his own individualized and often tricky compositions; if some ambitious parlor musician had the nerve, he could try fitting his fingers to the bewildering pattern that Jelly's chords and bursts and runs made on the piano keyboard, but Jelly wasn't going to stand around and wait for him, or for any amateur vocalists, either. (It must be admitted in passing that Midnight Mama and Dead Man are word rolls, but it's doubtful that they were sung often. Let's just say that every man must have his weak spot, and that lyrics were often Morton's.)
Thus, these rolls can stand up in comparison with any of Jelly's recorded work. They indicate the full sweep of the man's genius (the word is used advisedly). His playing was completely unique. But it would seem to have achieved this quality by adding something that was his alone to a framework that is actually an amazing fusion of a great any facets of jazz: ragtime, the blues, the stomps, the rollicking barrelhouse beat, the strong Spanish and French influences that New Orleans gave to jazz. And there is perfect use of the classic steady beat in the left hand, unfettered imagination in the right.
Together, it adds up to what can best be called "Jelly Roll style" - which is precisely what Jelly once called it. And although a great many people (including, of course, the man himself) have written and spoken much in explanation of it, the most sensible way to appreciate and to enjoy this music is still - listen; the incomparable, the one and only Mr. Jelly Lord is playing…
Issued by special arrangement with the Imperial Industrial Company, manufactures of QRS piano rolls.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J.Lee
RIVERSIDE PRODUCTIONS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS