THE MAN WHO REALLY INVENTED JAZZ
IS NOT PERMITTED TO PLAY IT
JELLY ROLL MORTON BARRED BY UNION
Says He Created
New Vogue in
By WILLIAM YOUNG
NEW YORK — It is ironical, but true that the man who really invented jazz is now not permitted to play it.
Jellyroll Morton, who because of his strange piano style, created this modern rhythm, because of his disagreement with the musicians’ union is kept out of organized music circles and is prevented from forming an orchestra.
Morton, who now makes his home in Harlem, claims that he was playing jazz long before James Reese Europe and his famous band made that type of music an international novelty during the war.
New Orleans is the home of jazz, according to Morton.
While Jim Europe was busying himself with the musicians’ headquarters in making plans to organize a band for the 15th Regiment of the N.Y.N.G a band stole into New York from New Orleans called the Creole Band and played at the Palace Theatre for two weeks and broke all records for attendance.
Sans [sic] piano and drums, they even improved on Jim Europe’s ragtime. The owner of the band was William Johnson, brother-in-law of Jellyroll Morton.
Europe went abroad with the 15th Regiment band where he introduced jazz in Europe, with the same results.
JELLY ROLL MORTON,
the originator of jazz music, who, because of difficulty
with the Musicians’ Union, is under suspension and not
allowed to play.
Crossed with Spanish
Meanwhile Jellyroll Morton set about in earnest to develop this type of music which he called jazz and discovered that it had a much better effect if played in a slower tempo.
He gave the following definition of jazz music: Jazz music is a cross between American ragtime with an inaccurate tempo and Spanish music with an accurate tempo.
With that, Mr. Morton assumes full responsibility as the creator of jazz music: Jazz music is a [sic] still in its infancy.
He also states that few musicians really understand jazz. However, among these few were Freddie Keppar (Keppard), the first great jazz trumpet player followed by King Oliver, Buddy Petit, Milt (Mutt) Carey, Louis Armstrong and Red Allen, all great trumpet players in bygone days with the exception of Louis Armstrong who tops the present crop, and Red Allen.
He adds to this list the names of George Bache (Baquet), Sidney Bachet (Bechet), Big Eye Louie (Louis Nelson), Clem Raymond, Wade Waley (Whaley) and that great bass violin player, Billy Merriere (Marrero).
Not Truly Developed
To further his claim that jazz is not yet perfected, Mr. Morton states that in all instruments there may be obtained, notes so odd and freakish that very few musicians are capable of producing them. Those who have, had no way of recording them because there were no such notes in the musical scale.
For example, suppose one tried to write the notes corresponding to the human laugh, the imitation of a chicken, cow, duck, whistle or even a siren. Yet they can be made on a trombone, clarinet, trumpet or violin. Why is it, that Louis Armstrong can blow a higher note than any other trumpet player?
Morton was born in New Orleans in 1885. He studied music at an early age and mastered the guitar. He switched to the piano, and he later formed a band of his own.
From this point on, there came into being a number of bands, almost simultaneously. They were Will Vodery, Fletcher Henderson, Leroy Smith, Sam Wooding, Tim Brymn, C. Luckeyth Roberts, Gus Creagle, Charles Parker, Happy Rhone, John Ricks, Sam Patterson, Billie Butler, Jr., Charlie Johnson, Gilbert Anderson and John C. Smith.
New Leaders Rise
From this number came Fletcher Henderson, a college graduate, whose knowledge of music plus him (his) arrangements rapidly placed him at the top. His was the first band to broadcast over the radio and hold down jobs in some of the leading hotels and country clubs.
The present crop of bands include, Duke Ellington, who not only has one of the great bands, but has gained international fame as a composer with “Mood Indigo,” “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Three Little Words,” and many others.
Cag (Cab) Calloway, king of the hi-de ro (Hi-De-Ho) shot up like a rocket after he entered the Cotton Club. Cab’s interpretation of “Minnie the Moocher,[”] and his unique style of singing, plus a good band, is responsible for his popularity. He efatured (featured) such songs as “Kickin[’] the Gong Around,” “The Lady with the Fan,” “The Jitter Bug,” “Willie the Weeper,” “Chinese Rhythm,” and “Smokey Joe.”
Claude Hopkins, another college graduate is a crowd pleaser, although compogins (composing) very few songs. His novel arrangements and orchestrations had such a swing that it was quick to take the public’s eye. The rendition of his theme song “I Could Do Most Anything for You,” is a good example of of the Hopkins Rhythm.
oDn Redmon (Don Redman), the shortest bandleader of them all, achieved fame by his trick arrangements and original compositions like:
“How’m I oDin’” (“How’mI Doin’?”), “I Heard,” and the “Chant of the Weeds.”
Louis Armstrong, the greatest of all the trumpet players, immediately places the rest of his band into obscurity. His ability to attain the weird high, and low notes and at the same time maintaining perfect time and rhythm plus his husky singing voice with his unique style of presentation has enabled him to outdistance his rivals by a wide margin.
Jimmie Lunceford’s band, a comparatively new group in New York, represents the modery (modern) type of musician. Lunceford himself, a young man, has plenty of showmanship, color and versatility.
One of the most important orchestras is that of Noble Sissle. Sissle was one of Jim Europe’s original musicians. After Europe’s edath (death), he entered the vaudeville profession with a fellow musician, Eubie Blake. The team broke up and Sissle went to Europe with his own act. He remained in Europe for seven years and returned to the United States in 1927 where he was engaged at the Park Sentral (Central) Hotel.
Chick Webb an orchestra leader has approved his worth by his ability to please the younger set. His is strictly a red hot jazz band in every sense of the word.
Other modern dance bands popular in Harlem and throughout the country are: Willie Bryant, Teddy Hill, Bama State Collegians, Vernon Andrades, Louis (Luis) Russell, Lucky Milinder (Millinder), Fess Williams and Fats Waller.
Note: About a half century has elapsed since I first read Alan Lomax’s Mister Jelly Roll and listened to Rudi Blesh’s edition of the Library of Congress recordings. At first, it seemed that the meeting of Lomax and Morton was a perfect example of serendipity: Jelly Roll just happened to be in Washington when Lomax was employed at the Library. The reminiscences of a folk artist were preserved for posterity by a young researcher well-versed in ethno-musicological field work as it was then practiced.
But the more we learn about the circumstances of these recordings, the more it seems that they were just another episode — and not the earliest — in Jelly Roll’s desire to tell his own story in his own manner. I offer some evidence for this in my “Afterword” to the fourth edition of Mister Jelly Roll (University of California Press, 2001) now included in the new Rounder boxed set of the Library of Congress recordings.
In the afterword I drew attention to an article by William Young in an unidentified and undated newspaper clipping saved in Jelly Roll’s scrapbook unearthed by Phil Pastras and now housed in the Historic New Orleans Collection. In the course of a brief visit to the Collection in August 2005, I asked the ever-helpful Mark Cave to lift the clipping, which was about ready to fall off the page, so that the reverse could be read. While this didn’t show the paper’s name or date, it provided clues that made it highly likely that it was from an African-American publication from Philadelphia. While perusal of the Philadelphia Tribune met with no luck, a reading of the short-lived and more rambunctious Afro-American identified the date (April 11, 1936) and the page (11). In fact the date at the top of page 11 is (incorrectly) printed as April 4, 1936.
The reporter, William Young, is otherwise unknown to me, but knowing more about him might help in deciding just where Morton stops and Young starts. It’s conceivable that the entire article is based on what Morton told the reporter, including the fascinating remarks about contemporary big-band leaders, but there seems little doubt that Morton is responsible for the first column and a third of the second. The actual date of the interview isn’t given but presumably after Jelly Roll received notice in early December 1935, of his expulsion from Local 802 for non-payment of dues — also included in the scrapbook. [LG 8]