Near the end of his life, Jelly Roll Morton was bitter and in financial straits, feeling overlooked for his contributions as a jazz trailblazer while others got the credit. In 1938, folklorist Alan Lomax began documenting Morton's career and music by conducting private sessions with the pianist in a concert hall, transcribing his comments and performances onto two primitive battery-operated portable disc cutters, which had problems keeping a consistent speed.
Various editions of these historic Library of Congress recordings have been issued over the years, though duplications, omissions and pitch problems make them inferior to this newly remastered and re-edited collection. The recordings have been resequenced to their original order, with duplications omitted and all unreleased segments included, while the pitch correction and remastering, utilizing a few newly discovered alternate masters, has greatly improved the fidelity.
Though he has long had the reputation as a braggart, Morton comes across as one who is trying to tell the story about the big picture, not just his own life. He discusses numerous musicians and characters that he encountered along his travels, nearly all of whom would have been forgotten without these recordings. His narratives are intermingled with his piano instrumentals and baritone vocals, lubricated by his interviewer's liquor (who he thanks frequently with the comment "This whiskey is tremendous ), though some material was irretrievably lost as Lomax changed discs.
Morton's repertoire is wide-ranging, including spirituals, folk songs, opera excerpts and even Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag and Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin,' though he quickly detours from Andy Razaf's lyrics, possibly not remembering them. He renders still effective renditions of many of his best-known instrumentals (including "King Porter Stomp, "The Pearls and "The Crave ). All of the songs initially omitted from earlier editions are present, including Morton's very bawdy take on "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor and his own "Winin' Boy Blues. Morton explains that making a pallet was not only done to let a guest sleep in the host's bed, but also in order to avoid leaving overt signs of committing adultery to one's spouse.
The bonuses are many: a detailed, large size booklet with notes by John Szwed, Lomax's biography Mr. Jelly Roll, plus actual complete transcriptions of Lomax's interviews (including some not recorded) with Morton on a CD-ROM program added to final disc. The audio tracks on the last disc contain enlightening interviews with Johnny St. Cyr, Alphonse Picou, Leonard Bechet, and Paul Dominguez, Jr. The large box is shaped like a piano, though its outer edges could have been made a bit sturdier.
Anyone collector interested in early jazz should check out this painstakingly assembled collection of Jelly Roll Morton's landmark Library of Congress sessions without hesitation. As far as I'm concerned, this is easily the best boxed set of the year.
Track Listing: CD1: The Story of ďIím Alabama BoundĒ; Time in Mobile/Iím Alabama Bound; King
Porter Stomp/The Story of "King Porter Stomp"; The Story of "King Porter Stomp"; Jelly
Roll's Background; Music Lessons/Miserere; Miserere/The French Opera House and the
Tenderloin; The Stomping Grounds; The Style of Sammy Davis/The Renown of Tony
Jackson/Pretty Baby; Tony Jackson Was the Favorite/Dope, Crown, and Opium; Poor Alfred
Wilson/Tony Jacksonís ďNaked DanceĒ; Honky Tonk Blues/In New Orleans, Anyone Could
Carry a Gun; New Orleans Was a Free and Easy Place/Levee Man Blues. CD2: The
Story of Aaron Harris; The Story of Aaron Harris/Aaron Harris Blues; Aaron Harris, His
Hoodoo Woman, and the Hat That Started a Riot; The Story of the 1900 New Orleans Riot
and the Song of Robert Charles; The Story of the 1900 New Orleans Riot/Game Kid Blues;
Game Kid Blues/Buddy Carter Rag; New Orleans Funerals/Steal Away/Nearer My God to
Thee; Funeral Marches/Flee As the Bird to the Mountain; Oh! Didn't He Ramble/Evolution
of ďTiger RagĒ/Tiger Rag, First and Second Strains; Tiger Rag, Third, Fourth, and Fifth
Strains, Tiger Rag transformed; Tiger Rag/Panama; The Right Tempo Is the Accurate
Tempo/Harmony, Melody and Riffs; Jazz Discords and Story of the Kansas City Stomp/
Stomp; Kansas City Stomp/Breaks in Jazz/Darktown Struttersí Ball; Slow Swing and Sweet
Jazz Music; Salty Dog/Bill Johnson, Jelly's Brother-in-Law; Hesitation Blues. CD3: My
Gal Sal, Original and Transformation; The St. Louis Scene/Randallís Tune/Maple Leaf Rag,
St. Louis Style; Maple Leaf Rag, St. Louis Style/Maple Leaf Rag, New Orleans Style; Jelly Roll
Carves St. Louis; Jelly Roll Carves St. Louis/Miserere/Anvil Chorus; New Orleans Blues;
Winin' Boy Blues; Winin' Boy Blues; The Anamule Dance; The Anamule Dance/Yhe Story of
ďThe Anmule DanceĒ/The
Origins of Scat/Scat Song; The Great Buddy Bolden/Buddy Boldenís Blues; The Great Buddy
Bolden; Mr. Jelly Lord; How Jelly Roll Got His Name/Original Jelly Roll Blues; Original Jelly
Roll Blues/Jelly Rollís Four-Beat Foot; Honky Tonk Blues/Old-Time Honky Tonks.
CD4: Real Tough Boys; Sporting Attire and Shooting the Agate; Sweet Mamas and
Sweet Papas/See See Rider; See See Rider/Parading with the Broadway Swells; Parading
with the Broadway Swells; Fights and Weapons/The Stars and Stripes Forever; Luis Russell
and New Orleans Riffs/Call of the Freaks; Jelly's Travels: From Yazoo to Clarksdale; Jelly's
Travels: From Clarksdale to Helena; Jelly's Travels: From Helena to Memphis; In Memphis:
The Monarch Saloon and Benny Frenchy/Benny Frenchyís Tune; Benny Frenchy's Tune/Bad
Sam, Memphisí Toughest/The Stomp That Beat Benny Frenchy/All That I Ask is Love; Make
Me a Pallet on the Floor; Make Me a Pallet on the Floor; Make Me a Pallet on the Floor;
Make Me a Pallet on the Floor. CD5: The Dirty Dozen; The Murder Ballad, Pt. 1; The
Murder Ballad, Pt. 2; The Murder Ballad, Pt. 3; The Murder Ballad, Pt. 4; The Murder Ballad,
Pt. 5; The Murder Ballad, Pt. 6; The Murder Ballad, Conclusion; Fickle Fay Creep; Jungle
Blues; King Porter Stomp; Sweet Peter; Hyena Stomp; Wolverine Blues; Wolverine Blues;
State and Madison; The Pearls; The Pearls. CD6: Bert Williams; Freakish; Pep; The
Georgia Skin Game; The Georgia Skin Game; The Georgia Skin Game/Iím Gonna Get One
and Go Directly; Ungai Hai, the Sign of the Indians; New Orleans Blues/The Spanish Tinge;
The Spanish Tinge; Improving Spanish Tempos and Creepy Feeling; Creepy Feeling; The
Crave; Mamanita; C'…tait N'Aut' Can-Can, Payez Donc/If You Donít Shake, You
Donít Get No Cake; Spanish Swat; Ain't Misbehavin'; I Hate a Man Like You/Rolling Stuff;
Michigan Water Blues. CD7: Winin' Boy Blues; Winin' Boy Blues; Boogie Woogie Blues/
Albert Carrollís Tune/Buddy Bertrandís Blues; Buddy Bertrand's Blues/Mamieís Blues; When
the Hot Stuff Came In; The First Hot Arrangements; The Pensacola Kid and the Cadillac
Cafť; At the Cadillac Cafť, Los Angeles/Little Liza Jane; Little Liza Jane/On the West Coast:
Getting Along Swell; In the Publishing Business. CD8: Original Jelly Roll Blues; Jelly
Roll's Early Playing Days in the District; Hot Bands and Creole Tunes; Eh, La Bas/Riffs and
Breaks from Creole Songs; Old-Time Creole Musicians and the French Element; Playing Hot
with Buddy Bolden; High Society; Sporting Life Costumes; Buddy Bolden: Man and
Musician; Creoles Playing with Negroes: Getting That Drive; Jelly Roll's Compositions; How
Johnny St. Cyr Learned to Play Guitar; Guitar Blues; Bad Men and Pimps [; The Story of the
Coon Blues; Coon Blues; Jazz Is Just a Makeup: Buddy Bolden, Honky Tonks, Brass Band
Funerals and Parades; Young Sidney Bechet: Jim Crow and the Dangers of the District; The
Main Idea in Jazz: Just Watch Me - Improvising and Reading Music; Of All His Mother's
Children He Loved Jelly the Best: A Little Tale of Jelly Roll Morton.
Personnel: Jelly Roll Morton: piano, vocals, guitar, commentary; Alan Lomax: interviewer; Johnny St.
Cyr: guitar, commentary, Leonard Bechet: commentary; Paul Dominguez, Jr.: guitar,
commentary; Albert Glenny: commentary; Alphonse Picou: commentary.