Morton, Jelly Roll


Morton, Jelly Roll
orig. Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe

born Oct. 20, 1890, New Orleans, La., U.S.
died July 10, 1941, Los Angeles, Calif.

U.S. pianist and the first important composer in jazz.

In his youth Morton was apparently active as a gambler, pool shark, and procurer. A pioneer ragtime piano player, he toured the country as a pianist from 1904, making his first recordings in Chicago in 1923 with his ensemble the Red Hot Peppers. An exponent of the New Orleans tradition, Morton achieved success integrating elements of ragtime with improvised and arranged ensemble passages, often on his own compositions such as "King Porter Stomp." By the early 1930s Morton's fame had been overshadowed by that of Louis Armstrong and other emerging innovators.

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▪ American musician
byname of  Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe  
born Oct. 20, 1890, New Orleans, La., U.S.
died July 10, 1941, Los Angeles, Calif.
 American jazz composer and pianist who pioneered the use of prearranged, semiorchestrated effects in jazz-band performances.

      Morton learned the piano as a child and from 1902 was a professional pianist in the bordellos of the Storyville district of New Orleans. He was one of the pioneer ragtime piano players, but he would later invite scorn by claiming to have “invented jazz in 1902.” He was, nevertheless, an important innovator in the transition from early jazz to orchestral jazz that took place in New Orleans about the turn of the century. About 1917 he moved west to California, where he played in nightclubs until 1922. He made his recording debut in 1923, and from 1926 to 1930 he made, with a group called Morton's Red Hot Peppers, a series of recordings that gained him a national reputation. Morton's music was more formal than the early Dixieland jazz, though his arrangements only sketched parts and allowed for improvisation. By the early 1930s, Morton's fame had been overshadowed by that of Louis Armstrong and other emerging innovators.

      As a jazz composer, Morton is best remembered for such pieces as “Black Bottom Stomp,” “King Porter Stomp,” “Shoe Shiner's Drag,” and “Dead Man Blues.”

Additional Reading
The 1938 Library of Congress recordings were the basis for Alan Lomax, Mister Jelly Roll, 2nd ed. (1973). Martin T. Williams, Jelly Roll Morton (1962), studies his music.

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Universalium. 2010.

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