Sunday, 19 February 2017

Fast ones; The inventor of Jazzz, Swing & Stomp

When ever, either talking about or playing Jazz, in my, the blogger's notion, we should always start with and from Mr. Jelly Roll Morton, the piano king of New Orleans; he is, undoubtedly, an American classicist and national hero in a fine form.

Jelly Roll Morton, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe by birth name, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, around 1885 and died in Los Angeles, California, in 1941.

Jelly Roll started his career in Good Old N.O. as a pianist. He played piano in the French Quarter, Storyville area, also known as "The District". It comprised thirty eight blocks where flourished the brothels, a.k.a. "mansions", and around them, cabarets, saloons and gambling joints on 24/7-basis.

Right from the start, Morton was a prolific composer. He wrote, and performed, utility music to entertain the wealthy guests drinking champagne and enjoying good time on the whole with the "handsome women" employed by the mansions under supervision of the Madame of the house. Josie Arlington's and Lulu White's Mahogany Hall were certainly two of the most famous and fanciest mansions. It has been widely cited, over and over, that Jelly Roll played piano the way that made guests, and the handsome women accompanying them, feel comfortable. And as Jelly was regarded as one of the best, he certainly worked for the best mansion and was well paid. Those were the good old early years of the 1900's preceding the WW1, the period in France called the "belle époque".

New Orleans had harbored, for a long time, the marching band or street band tradition which gradually transformed into jazz-bands which proliferated all over the town; there were negro bands and white bands galore, engagements and gigs were many.

Morton was probably the first who started systematically arranging and orchestrating, mainly his own piano compositions for the traditional New Orleans-style band set up making him quite close as America's first Jazz composer. He was the first jazz big shot to leave New Orleans while it was still in full swing. Jelly went to California, he was in New York in 1911 while his colleagues happily jammed at home... WW1 suddenly closed down The District, a lot of boys lost their living, and, had to go up the river to the Midwest; that's the way Jazz came to Chicago, propagated to New York...
The roaring 1920's took full swing, with prohibition, gangsters, booze, gambling, flappers, dancing, and, jazz galore...

Morton was well prepared since he was and had already established himself up in The North when his colleagues were only arriving down to the scene. He was running his Red Hot Peppers band and was the best selling recording artist for the Victor company and making big money, as long as it lasted... His business card from Chicago days reads: "Jelly Roll" Morton, king of jazz pianists, composer of many popular numbers such as "Jelly Roll Blues, Wolverine Blues, Mr. Jelly Lord, Big Foot Ham, Millenburg Joys, King Porter Stomp, Kansas City Stomp, ... , New Orleans Blues and many others [!]; And from later New York days: Jelly Roll Morton's Orchestra, Originator of JAZZ-STOMP-SWING, VICTOR ARTIST, World's Greatest Hot Tune Writer, Music Furnished For All Occasions, Nothing too Large, Nothing too small, 15 pieces or less. The cards really speak for themselves!

Morton's obsessive notion was that jazz piano must always be an imitation of a band; for him it certainly meant: The tarditional New Orleans -style jazz band! The imitation comprises the left hand standing for the riffing rhythm and base line (drum(s), tuba and/or string bass, trombone) whereas the right hand takes care of the breaking solo instruments like cornets & trumpets, saxophones, clarinets etc. The younger generation musicians certainly thought quite the otherwise in the 1930's, but, that is another story...

The one below is the solo piano version of Morton's composition Kansas City Stomp played (cut) by himself on a player-piano roll; this is quite the authentic way he sounded playing for the guests & handsome women at Lulu White's Mahogany Hall...

The next one is the orchestrated version recorded by Morton's band; pay attention to Jelly Roll's resolute idea of  piano as an imitation of a band...

The one below makes it quite clear that Morton's legacy is doing well in his home town New Orleans, Kansas City Stomp here played by the Tuba Skinny, led by a charming lady, Shaye Cohn, cornet.

Good jazzzz & dancing outdoors; wait at least until the drummer makes her stylish & coooool enrée, and,some dancers, some dancers!

... Should there be any hop heads over there, can't help adding the next one; it takes place at the beer garden of Abita Brewing Company.

... Where Jelly Roll insisted piano to be an imitation of a band, Bryan Wright is a perfect imitation of Jelly Roll at the grand piano below.

... And how about the duo version of Kansas City Stomp below; drums impart quite hilarious flavor.

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