Sunday 1 January 2012

12 for 2012: No.8: "Jelly Roll" Morton (1885-1941)

During each of the twelve days of Christmas, the 1709 Blog is bringing readers some information concerning an author, composer, artist or creator who died in 1941 and whose works fall into the public domain in 2012 in countries which operate a "life plus seventy years" term for copyright in authors' works. Today we feature a colourful personality within the field of jazz -- the celebrated pianist and composer "Jelly Roll" Morton.

Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (‘Jelly Roll Morton’) was famous both for his musical talents and for his rather overconfident nature. His self-promotion as the ‘inventor of jazz’ has been disparaged by many a musician and critic, yet his considerable accomplishments speak for themselves. Morton’s musical career began at the age of fourteen, when he began working as a piano player in a brothel. His nickname ‘Jelly Roll’, which at the time had sexual connotations, was acquired during this period. He was kicked out of the home he shared with his grandmother when she discovered how he was earning his living. Still in his teens, Jelly Roll became a travelling musician, composing and performing all over the American South.

'Jelly Roll Blues' (1915) became the first published jazz composition, and Morton’s famous jazz arrangements are unique in their ability to capture the essence of improvisation on paper. Other well-known works by Morton are 'Black Bottom Stomp' (1926), 'Wolverine Blues' (1927), and 'I thought I heard Buddy Bolden Say'. Morton’s piano style was influenced by ragtime and boogie-woogie, and his music often had a wild, improvisatory feel. Whether or not the invention of jazz can be attributed to Jelly Roll, he was undoubtedly a pioneer figure in the development of this genre, and the creator of some of today’s greatest jazz arrangements.

This series has been authored by Miriam Levenson, whom the 1709 Blog gives its grateful thanks.

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