Rudiments of Ragtime Installment 13: Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)

After the original Classic Ragtime composers those who improvised on their syncopation came next, and Jelly Roll Morton in New Orleans was one of the best known. He was self-taught and began playing in the city’s brothels to support himself at the age of 14. Next, he toured the country in Minstrel Shows performing his own compositions.

Morton became famous for his early improvisations on creole ragtime, and proclaimed himself to be the originator of jazz claiming to have published the first jazz composition, “Jelly Roll Blues.” By the 1920s his “Wolverine Blues,” was popular with big bands. His own band The Red Hot Peppers, popularized his “King Oliver Stomp.”

Red Wood Coast

Jelly Roll Morton has a long discography including a 12-record set titled, “Mr. Jelly Lord produced by Rudi Blesh’s Circle Records in 1950. In 2005, Rounder Records released an 8-volume set of Morton’s work with the famous 1938 Alan Lomax interviews for the Library of Congress.jelly roll morton

He struggled with financial woes much of his life and died of respiratory failure in New York at age 51. His hot jazz style was disappearing when he died but has been kept vital by modern performers like Reginald Robinson and Dick Hyman.

Lomax, Alan, Mister Jelly Roll; 1950

Hot Jazz Jubile

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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