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JELLY-ROLL MORTON (1885-1941)
Mr Jelly Lord: Original recordings 1924-1930 - Jelly-Roll Morton (piano) and his Red Hot Peppers

NAXOS JAZZ LEGENDS 8.120824 [62.25]

 

 


Black Bottom Stomp [3.10]
Smoke House Blues [3.23]
The Chant [3.07]
Tom Cat Blues (piano solo) [3.00]
King Porter Stomp (piano solo) [2.48]
Sidewalk Blues [3.26]
Dead Man Blues [3.20]
Steamboat Stomp [3.05]
Grandpa’s Spells [2.51]
Original Jelly Roll Blues [3.03]
Doctor Jazz - Stomp [3.03]
The Pearls (piano solo) [2.46]
The Pearls [3.24]
Mr Jelly Lord (Jelly-Roll Morton and his Trio) [2.50]
Georgia Swing [2.28]
Deep Creek [3.29]
Seattle Hunch (piano solo) [3.06]
Freakish (piano solo) [2.51]
Ponchatrain [2.53]
Burnin’ the Iceberg [3.03]
All numbers written by Ferdinand ‘Jelly-Roll’ Morton except tracks 2 and 9 (Charles Luke), and 11 (King Oliver-Walter Melrose)

rec. Richmond, Indiana 9 June 1924 (track 4), Chicago 20 April 1926 (tracks 5, 12), 15, 21 September 1926 (tracks 1-3, 6-8), 16 December 1926 (tracks 9-11), 10 June 1927 (tracks 13-14), New York 11 June 1928 (track 15), 6 December 1928 (track 16), Camden, New Jersey 8 July 1929 (tracks 17-18), 9 July 1929 (track 20), New York 20 March 1930 (track 19)

 

Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe, aka Jelly-Roll Morton, was a jazz giant and a performing genius. Born near New Orleans, the spiritual if not actual birthplace of jazz, Morton began playing piano at ten, usually background music for customers in bordellos, something he had in common with Brahms, who played in Hamburg’s brothels at a similar age. There the common thread ends.

Between 1904 and 1922 (aged 19-37) Morton dabbled in a variety of jobs such as pool shark, vaudeville comedian, pimp, hotel manager, boxing promoter, tailor and gambling house manager, with piano playing a constant throughout. He only began recording in 1923 at a time when he had already defined a role for himself in the profession midway between ragtime and early jazz. By the time he moved from LA to Chicago in 1923, he was the complete professional musician and recorded piano solos for Paramount, though regrettably they were noted for crude results regarding such basics as minimising surface noise. Fortunately he switched to Victor and produced his best work between 1926 and 1930. After his contract ended, Morton’s life was not happy. Struggling with poor health - a weak heart - and indecisive moves such as running a dive in Washington, he died in 1941 just as his music was making a comeback.

These twenty tracks are the pick of those four golden Victor years 1926-1930, and the cast list of his fellow performers makes impressive reading, Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny St Cyr (banjo), Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard and the great Johnny Dodds (clarinets), George Mitchell (cornet), Baby Dodds (drums), and a host of others who came and went from the Red Hot Peppers. ‘Ah Mr Jelly’- up goes the cry from Morton himself during the evocative Smoke House Blues, a haunting number. So too is The Pearls, which you get the bonus chance to hear twice, in its band version immediately after the solo on tracks 12-13, and which is really a thinly disguised Beale Street Blues. Besides stunning piano playing throughout (there are five piano solo tracks here), it is Morton’s high level of imaginative and unpredictable creativity which so impresses. King Porter Stomp - better known as a big band classic a year later when Fletcher Henderson recorded it - contains some strange harmonies and piano textures, the chords widely spaced between the two hands. More vaudeville-style speech introduces tracks 6-8 followed by two classic blues and a spirited stomp with fabulous playing all round. That defining December 1926 session in Chicago produced three brilliant numbers, Grandpa’s Spells, Original Jelly Roll Blues and Doctor Jazz - the only number which has a vocal, Morton himself - tracks 9-12. It’s worth buying this disc for these three tracks alone.

Transfers and digital restoration by David Lennick and Graham Newton respectively are excellent, and Scott Yanow’s comprehensive notes highly informative. I grew up with a couple of well-worn, oft-played 10 inch LPs of Jelly, and many of these numbers have remained fresh in my mind when I hear them all again on this CD. Morton was a genius, and if he had not been known to posterity by his nickname, Doctor Jazz would have been the perfect alternative.

Christopher Fifield

 



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