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Jelly Roll Morton

Doctor Jazz. His 51 finest 1923 – 1940

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4376 [78:42 + 79:59]

CD 1 [78:42]

1. Doctor Jazz [3:25]

2. Big Fat Ham [2:49]

3. Shreveport Stomp [4:40]

4. Black Bottom Stomp [3:09]

5. Smokehouse Blues [3:25]

6. The Chant [3:09]

7. Sidewalk Blues [3:27]

8. Dead Man Blues [3:13]

9. Steamboat Stomp [3:06]

10. Grandpa’s Spells [2:51]

11. The Original Jelly Roll Blues [3:04]

12. Cannon Ball Blues [2:50]

13. Wild Man Blues [3:03]

14. Jungle Blues [3:25]

15. Beale Street Blues [3:12]

16. The Pearls [3:23]

17. Wolverine Blues [3:18]

18. Mister Jelly Lord [2:50]

19. Georgia Swing [2:31]

20. Shoe Shiner’s Drag [3:24]

21. Kansas City Stomps [2:57]

22. Mournful Serenade [3:22]

23. Shreveport [3:12]

24. Deep Creek [3:25]

CD 2 [79:59]

1. Pep [2:52]

2. Seattle Hunch [3:07]

3. Freakish [2:53]

4. Burnin’ the Iceberg [3:00]

5. New Orleans Bump [3:29]

6. Tank Town Bump [3:08]

7. Sweet Peter [2:42]

8. Mississippi Mildred [3:15]

9. Smilin’ the Blues Away [2:51]

10. Turtle Twist [3:04]

11. Each Day [2:50]

12. Little Lawrence [2:50]

13. Harmony Blues [3:24]

14. Load of Coal [2:54]

15. Low Gravy [2:42]

16. Strokin’ Away [2:53]

17. Blue Blood Blues [3:01]

18. Gambling Jack [2:50]

19. Buddy Bolden’s Blues [3:09]

20. High Society [2:46]

21. Winin’ Boy Blues [3:09]

22. Ballin’ the Jack [2:10]

23. King Porter Stomp [2:48]

24. Mamie’s Blues [2:40]

25. Panama [2:31]

26. Sweet Substitute [2:50]

27. Dirty, Dirty, Dirty [2:49]

Jelly Roll Morton (piano) with Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Bubber Miley, Wilbur DeParis, Sidney Bechet, Zutty Singleton and many others


Jelly Roll Morton, or Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe as his original name was, belongs to the most important pioneers for the development of jazz in the early 20th century, together with Buddy Bolden and King Oliver and a few others. According to himself he ‘happened to be the creator [of jazz] in the year 1902’. That year he was 12 and hardly a fully-fledged musician, but he seems, anyway, to have composed The Original Jelly Roll Blues in 1905, which was recorded in one of his first electrical sessions for Victor in 1926 and the very first jazz composition to be published was his Jelly Roll Blues in 1915, so he was for sure a true pioneer. While sound recordings of classical and popular music were made even before the turn of the century, jazz had to wait until 1917 when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band set down Livery Stable Blues, and it was soon followed by others like King Oliver and Bessie Smith, and also JRM showed his paces in 1923, with Big Foot Ham, included in this compilation (CD 1 tr. 2) and the only pre-electric recording here. A lot more was recorded but the disc opens with one of his most famous recordings, Doctor Jazz, which also is the title of the whole set. This was set down in December 1926, but after that we follow his recording career chronologically from 15 th September 1926 until 30th January 1940. His health was then on decline after a stabbing a couple of years earlier and he passed away on 10th July 1941 at the age of 50.

It should be said that his fame rests largely on the Victor recordings from 1926 until October 1930. By then the effects of the Black Thursday a year earlier had begun to make its mark, the depression was on its way and Victor didn’t renew the contract with Morton, which meant that he never recorded anything for almost nine years, and when he made his comeback in September 1939 he was already a sick man. The sides he recorded, first for Bluebird and then for General, have never reach the status of classics, that those of the 20s have, but they are still of interest, not least through the presence of soloists like Albert Nicholas, Sidney Bechet and Red Allen – and the arrangements of Morton. On the present well-filled twofer we follow Morton’s development strictly chronologically with one exception: Doctor Jazz from 1926, which is the title tune and a well-deserved classic with Omer Simeon’s clarinet and Morton’s vocals featured. The sound is impressive, full and clear and Johnny St. Cyr’s banjo very realistically caught. A brilliant start.

Then we go back a few years to Morton’s very first recording, Big Fat Ham from 1923. The pre-electric sound is thinner of course but still very listenable. It is followed by a piano roll recording from 1924, Shreveport Stomp, with tremendous punch and fluent improvisations – and God, it swings!

Tracks 4 – 12 are those other classics from three sessions in September and December 1926. George Mitchell’s trumpet and Kid Ory’s trombone are featured and Sidewalk Blues and Dead Man Blues are notable for the interesting guest appearance of clarinettists Barney Bigard and Darnell Howard joining Omer Simeon, producing a woodwind sound that seems to presage the Glenn Miller sound of the next decade. On the whole the arrangements are effective and varied and quite advanced, and in Grandpa’s Spells, Johnny St. Cyr has a banjo solo.

For the next sessions, in June 1927, JRM musters a quite different setup of musicians – only George Mitchell survives from the previous group. Instead the Dodds brothers, Johnny on clarinet and Baby on drums, the banjo is gone and he introduces alto sax, guitar and tuba. Noticeable is Jungle Blues, where he, like Ellington at the same time, explores the jungle sound. There are also two trio numbers with JRM and the Dodds brothers – presaging the Goodman trios, but while Goodman, Wilson and Krupa produce true integrated chamber jazz, Morton very much dominates and in Wolverine Blues there is a long piano-drum duet before the clarinet comes in.

A year later he was back in the studio with yet another setup. Omer Simeon was back, otherwise new personnel and the orchestra was reduced to the traditional New Orleans combination. It seems that Morton was quite a hard employer and many musicians backed out from him. Besides three sides with the orchestra – the name Red Hot Peppers was gone – he recorded King Oliver’s Mournful Serenade with a quartet (trombone, clarinet, piano and drums) and Shreveport without the trombone. Here Omer Simeon shines.

From December the same year there is a single side with his next orchestra, and now he is striving for a bigger sound. Two trumpets, one trombone, clarinet and two saxophones, plus piano, guitar, tuba and drums. New musicians again and the best-known name is a 20-year-old Russell Procope on clarinet. His reputation rests mainly on his time with the Duke Ellington, from 1946 to 1974, when Ellington passed away.

On CD 2 we start on 8 July 1929, when Morton set down some solo numbers, and the next few days a new big band, new faces again and now with clarinet plus three saxophones. Good sound and the playing excellent. In November he presented a new group again. Now Red Hot Peppers was dusted off and he mustered a starry lineup: Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Will Johnson, Pops Foster and Paul Barbarin. In December came a new trio with Barney Bigard and Zutty Singleton.

There followed some sessions during 1930 with five versions of the Red Hot Peppers and various members, the only musician common to all was trumpeter Ward Pinkett, but even his participation is questioned. Obviously these were all pickup bands. The last session represented here was in October 1930 and after that followed a silence of almost nine years.

When he came back to the studio in September 1939 Jelly Roll Morton was a sick man. He launched his New Orleans Jazzmen with Sidney DeParis on trumpet, Albert Nicholas on clarinet and, in three numbers Sidney Bechet on soprano sax. The latter’s characteristic vibrant playing is a treat in itself, and his duel with Nicholas in High Society is a true highlight. Those sessions were recorded for Bluebird.

But in December that year, when he recorded among other things King Porter Stomp and Mamie’s Blues – the latter being the first song he heard in his life – it was for a new company again, General. And it was for the same company he set down some sides in January 1940 with his Hot Seven. Red Allen, Albert Nicholas and Zutty Singleton featured prominently and in the last number in this set JRM once again sang the vocals in Dirty, Dirty, Dirty. Maybe a symbol of his not too happy life during his last years.

But when he was at the top of his trade in the 1920s he produced some of the most invigorating and most personal jazz music ever set down for posterity, and I urge readers to grab the opportunity to add this set to their collection.

Göran Forsling

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