Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jelly Roll Morton collection


Terry Treachout had a good review of The Complete Library of Congress Recordings of jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 23. Unfortunately, it is not available online.

Here is an excerpt:
"When I was down on the Gulf Coast, in nineteen-four, I missed goin' to the St. Louis Exposition to get in a piano contest...."

To the jazz aficionado, those prefatory words, spoken in a careworn Creole accent, are as evocative of a lost world as "You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' but that ain't no matter." Jelly Roll Morton said them on May 23, 1938, sitting at a grand piano in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, sipping whiskey and softly vamping away at a tune of his own composition called "Alabama Bound." Sitting nearby, discreetly manipulating two portable disc recorders, was Alan Lomax, a young musicologist employed by the Library of Congress who had had the brilliant idea of inviting Morton to talk about the origins of jazz.

Now Rounder Records has released Morton's recorded reminiscences in an unabridged form for the first time on an eight-CD set called "Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax." It is to jazz what the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is to American history—only more fun….


At $115 the collection is a bit pricy for me, but I'm hoping it will eventually show up at my local public library.
I have just two recordings by Morton, both off the Ken Burns Jazz collection: The Pearls and Dead Man Blues. And then there is probably his most famous composition - King Porter Stomp, which became a huge hit for Benny Goodman thanks to an excellent arrangement by Fletcher Henderson.

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