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The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

Jelly Roll Morton

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Album Review

The Complete Library of Congress Recordings of Jelly Roll Morton is staggering in its depth and magnitude. Here is an intimate oral history of music and culture in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast with demonstrative musical accompaniment. Beautifully restored — especially considering the fact that this material was originally etched onto aluminum platters — the Morton interviews are able to seep into the mind of the listener with unprecedented clarity and precision, along with numerous instrumental piano solos. Sipping whiskey and narrating in what Alistair Cooke described as his "billiard ball baritone," Morton speaks of spirituals, blues, jazz, ragtime, opera, symphonies, and overtures. He airs his own theories of harmony, melody, discords, rhythms, breaks and riffs, scat singing, swing, and the value of jazz when played slowly so as to enhance its bouquet. He speaks of musical origins, antecedents and precedents, originality and piracy, of nocturnal entertainments, musical cutting contests and impromptu fisticuffs, 24-hour honky tonks and street parades. With all the descriptive power of a Zola novel Morton describes horses, fine food, alcohol, narcotics and body lice; cardsharps, pool sharks, prostitutes, pianists, and hoodoos; race riots and funerals, gang violence and cold-blooded murder. He tells stories of hitting the road and scuffling to get by, even selling bogus patent medicine door to door. He plays Miserere from Verdi's Il Trovatore, explains the use of tangos, waltzes, and habanera rhythms, traces the quadrille origins of the "Tiger Rag," sings Mardi Gras Indian chants, and describes the circumstances which led to his being called "Jelly Roll." Loosened by liquor and encouraged by Alan Lomax, Morton even revives the smutty songs he used to perform in the sporting houses of Storyville. Morton's scatological lyrics to "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" and his own cheerfully lewd "Winin' Boy Blues" are almost as bracing as his version of the ever-popular "Dirty Dozen," peppered with references to inter-species copulation. Even the epically proportioned "Murder Ballad" contains its share of overt sexual verbiage. Disc eight contains a series of interviews recorded in 1949 with New Orleans musicians Johnny St. Cyr, Alphonse Picou, Albert Glenny, Paul Dominguez, Jr., and Sidney Bechet's brother, the trombone-blowing dentist Dr. Leonard Bechet. Also included on this disc is an Adobe Acrobat PDF document packed with extra liner notes, word-for-word transcriptions of all lyrics and dialogue heard on this set, unrecorded interviews and research notes, as well as rare documents from the Jelly Roll Morton archive. The eight discs, a paperback edition of Lomax's excellent biography Mister Jelly Roll, and a wonderfully informative, insightful booklet are encased in a rather ungainly, piano-shaped package that seems precariously fragile. The words and music housed within, however, will now be able to circulate anew and endure in the body politic for many years to come.

Customer Reviews

Explicit?

That is idiotic. Whichever "rating board" slapped this on is high on censorship. If any 10 year old WERE listening to Jelly Roll, I'd buy them lunch. Speech from 1939 is what it is - free.

Great Stories, Great Music

This was an amazing achievement! Jelly Roll is very entertaining. He plays phenomenally well and tells very entertaining stories. I bought it because of a story on NPR I heard on it. I was very pleasantly surprised. Mr. Roll is a great pianist and is VERY good at telling his stories (his smooth southern accent makes them even better). This is definitely worth every penny. Don't listen to it in the car or anywhere you can't hear every detail because the originals are mixed between very soft and very loud. The "explicit" rating is very justified - especially on the "Make Me a Pallet" through "The Murder Ballad" songs. They even made me blush! Notwithstanding all of that, get this set! It's great for jazz enthusiasts as well as the rest of us who just want to be entertained and learn a little something along the way.

not explicit

i wonder if they even had explicitness oh wait there are some drgs there so maybe

Biography

Born: October 20, 1890 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s

One of the very first giants of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton did himself a lot of harm posthumously by exaggerating his worth, claiming to have invented jazz in 1902. Morton's accomplishments as an early innovator...
Full Bio