Basin Street Stroller
Annotated by George W. Kay
During the past few years, most readers of jazz literature have enjoyed the contributions of Roy J. Carew, embracing reliable, authoritative, and important information on ragtime, blues, and early New Orleans life and customs. A retired auditor from Government service, Carew, now passing 65, finds time from his home in Washington, D.C., to delve into subjects pertaining to the early ragtime and jazz era. His reputation for accuracy and authority is unquestioned by those who are familiar with his all-too-in frequent writings. It is no accident that Roy Carew’s name appears frequently in Alan Lomax’s book, ‘Mister Jelly Roll,’ and more recently in ‘They All Played Ragtime,’ by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis. This story, profiling Roy’s life with flashbacks to his early experiences with ragtime in New Orleans and his associations with Tony Jackson and Jelly Roll, will attempt to bring into focus a gentleman who has contributed immeasurably to the brightening of the ragtime scene — Roy J. Carew.
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NEW ORLEANS AND TONY JACKSON
During the summer of 1904, Roy Carew left his boyhood home in Michigan at the age of 21 to visit his relatives near Gulfport, Mississippi. He secured temporary work in that city, but after a brief stay of three months, he decided to go to New Orleans for treatment of an ankle injury, incurred while he was practicing for the somewhat precarious profession of acrobat during his younger days in Michigan. A successful follow-through of a job opportunity, which appeared in the want ads of the New Orleans Times-Democrat, landed Roy a job as book-keeper with the New Orleans Acid and Fertilizer Company, at their factory in Gretna, cross the river from the Crescent City. It was during the autumn of this year that Martin Behrman won his first campaign for mayor of New Orleans, a position that he held for sixteen years.
Labor Day, 1904, will always stand out in Roy Carew’s memory as an important date in his life, this being the day that he reported to the headquarters office of his new employer, located in the old Hibernia Bank Building in downtown New Orleans. It was on this day that Roy received his first thrilling baptism of New Orleans Negro street parade music. Perhaps it would be appropriate to quote Roy’s own words regarding this memorable occasion, which appeared in his ‘New Orleans Recollections,’ in the Record Changer of May, 1943:
‘Looking from the tenth floor of the Hibernia Bank Building, I heard my first New Orleans band — in fact, several bands. It was the Negro Labor Day Parade that was passing, and the bands kept the union members stepping along in proper fashion. Parades were a New Orleans specialty, and the bands were always equal to the occasion.’
Roy obtained lodging and board, at 838 St. Charles Street. The house was quite spacious, distinctive in design along traditional early New Orleans architectural lines, three stories high, balconies extending around the outside, and picturesque grille work ornamenting the front and side balconies. A unique feature of the house, in contrast with other dwellings in the vicinity, was the rather large front yard. Most houses below Lee Circle were situated flush against the banquettes (sidewalks).
There were no hallways within the house and the only way one could enter most of the rooms was to use the balconies. The rooms were quite large with high ceilings and shuttered windows which reached to the floor. Each room was equipped with a fireplace, fuel to be furnished at the guest’s own expense. A bundle of pine sticks and a bucket of soft coal could be purchased from peddlers. Louis Armstrong expounded on the life of the early New Orleans coal peddler in his memorable Coal Cart Blues, available in the Decca New Orleans Jazz Album. It goes without saying that conveniences were not readily available in those days. Along with a bed and chair, wash bowl, pitcher, and commode completed the standard equipment of the rooms. Roy lived at this address for about six months, until he moved to another part of uptown to keep house with his two sisters. By this time he was indoctrinated as a native Orleanian, and he lived in the Crescent City continuously from 1904 to 1919.
CAREW AS COMPOSER
Ragtime music was a source of great interest to Roy Carew even before he came to New Orleans. The first ragtime tune he ever attempted to master on the piano was Tickled To Death, by Hunter. Also, he had begun to write his first rag tune, Gulfport Slow Drag, about June of 1904, before coming to New Orleans. He did not become acquainted with Joplin’s famous Maple Leaf until the summer of 1904, although it was published in 1899. According to the Stark Music Company, the sale of Maple Leaf was very slow for many months.
Two important ragtime tunes, which Roy formulated slowly during the years 1907-08-09, andultimately led to his interest in the publishing field, were Water Lily Rag, and Algiers 80. Upon completion of these two rags in 1909, he visited the offices of a Mr. Robert Hoffman of the music department at the D. H. Holmes Department Store.
Mr. Hoffman liked both tunes, but in view of the fact that this firm did not publish music, Roy was referred to John J. Puderer, who operated the Music Shop on Canal Street. He played both compositions for Puderer, thinking that Water Lily would have the most commercial appeal and probably stood the best chance of being accepted. However, this was not the case. The publisher took a fancy to the second composition which Roy had named Algiers 80, commemorating the telephone number of one of his feminine heart throbs who lived across the river in Algiers, La.. Apparently Puderer was unimpressed with this bit of touching sentiment on the part of the ambitious young composer, and forthwith changed the title to Full Moon. In order to push the sale of Full Moon, Puderer made arrangements with a local concert band to play the tune at West End Park, during the summer concert season of 1910. Since it was impossible to get an instrument to execute the two-octave chromatic run which appears in the third part of the tune, a compromise was made by employing trombones to take the lower run, with other instruments picking up in the middle and carrying on to the end. Although Full Moon never enjoyed a large sale, nevertheless it is a first class rag, gay and melodic, and merits the attention of lovers of good ragtime music. It was surprising to Carew, who has no good copy of Full Moon, to hear that copies have been discovered in the possession of other rag collectors, Jerry Heermans, the modern rag enthusiast, having found two in Chicago.
It is significant that Full Moon is the only published rag by, Roy Carew, although he has written many other fine rag tunes. A full list of his compositions with approximate dates are as follows Gulfport Slow Drag (1906); Ecstasy Rag (1908); Full Moon (1909); Water Lily Rag (1909); Recreation Rags Nos. 1 and 2 (1916); Basin Street Stroller (1941); New Orleans Honky Tonk (1944). Some of the unpublished rags merit brief comment here. Recreation Rag No. 1, written in 1916, was followed within a few months by Recreation Rag No. 2, the latter tune containing a short strain of a ribald New Orleans Street cry, Get Over, Dirty which is found also in the first two bars of Tiger Rag. Roy got the idea for the name Recreation from Artie Matthews Pastime rags, which had begun to appear about that time. Matthews Pastime No. 1, published in 1913, was the first rag to feature the ‘boogie woogie.’ or ‘walking’ bass. Carew also used a modified ‘walking’ bass in parts of his Recreation rags. The most recent compositions to be put in manuscript form are Basin Street Stroller and New Orleans Honky Tonk. Certainly, Honky Tonk, a rag march, with some strains vaguely reminiscent of Albert Carroll’s Blues, could hold its own with the very best of the published rags. Partly due to the urging of Don Fowler, when he was stationed in Washington during the war, Carew put Honky Tonk in manuscript form. After Fowler returned to his home in Portland, Oregon, he assembled a Dixieland group and made a home recording of the tune.
The musician of the early days in New Orleans to make the greatest and most lasting impression upon Roy Carew was the almost legendary Tony Jackson. Roy did not meet Jelly Roll Morton until many years later in Washington, D.C., although he had a copy of Morton’s Jelly Roll Blues as far back as 1915, the year it was published. Again it is appropriate to refer to Carew’s own account of his first meeting of Tony Jackson, as described in his ‘New Orleans Recollections,’ which appeared in the Record Changer of February, 1943:
‘One evening during the winter of 1904-1905, I was strolling aimlessly about downtown New Orleans, and in the course of time I found myself approaching . . . the Gonzales establishment. I could hear the sound of piano playing with someone singing, which my ears told me was coming from the Villere side of the house. Always found of popular music; I immediately walked to the side of the house and got as close to the music as possible with the banquette going right up to the side of the house. I found myself standing under one of the windows of what probably was Madam ‘Gonzales’ parlor, listening to the ‘professor’ playing and singing. That night was thirty-eight years past now, but it is almost as clear in my memory as if it were last night. It was the most remarkable playing and singing I had ever heard the songs were just some of the popular songs of that day and time, but the beat of the bass and the embellished treble of the piano told me that here was something new to me in playing. And the singing was just as distinctive. It was a man’s voice of very good quality which rang true on every-tone a vibrant voice which took each note in easy precision a happy voice that had at times a sort of wild earnestness to it. High notes, low notes, fast or slow, the singer executed them all perfectly, blending them into the perfect performance with the remarkable piano style.’
Certainly Tony Jackson must have been an outstanding entertainer and musician, one of the pioneers of the New Orleans style of playing. Jelly Roll Morton, who was not one to pass praise lightly on his fellow musicians, called Jackson ‘the world’s greatest single-handed entertainer.’ During the famous Library of Congress sessions in 1938, Jelly Roll, at the suggestion of Carew, composed, The Naked Dance, in memory Tony’s ‘honky tonk’ style of playing ragtime. Surprisingly little literature is available on Tony Jackson. It is said that he was dark, ‘not a bit good-looking,’ Negro, with a somewhat weak chin which accentuated his upper lip. He was of medium height, slender and a neat but not an extravagant dresser. His beautiful singing voice made a profound impression on Carew who has listened to the moderns with the hope of hearing someone who possesses the qualities of Tony’s singing. He recognizes a trace of Tony now and then in the singing of Pigmeat Markham and Joe Turner. However, there seems to be no present day singer whose voice can be compared closely with that of Tony Jackson’s.
Later, during 1906-1907, when Tony was playing at Frank Early’s Cafe at the corner of Bienville and Franklin Streets, Roy came to know him rather well. He bought many pieces of sheet music, after hearing Tony sing and play them. With the exception of one three-year stay in Chicago, Tony was in New Orleans until sometime before 1915, when he left the Crescent City for good. Only ten published compositions by Tony Jackson are known to be in existence Pretty Baby, I’ve Been Fiddle-ing, Some Sweet Day, I’ve Got ’Em. Miss Samantha Johnson’s Wedding Day, Waiting At The Church Door, Why Keep Me Waiting So Long, Ice And Snow, I’m Certainly Gonna See About That, and You Mean So Much To Me. Of all the compositions written by Tony Jackson the one tune to reach lasting fame was Pretty Baby, but it is generally known that Tony realized a profit of only $45.00 for this nation-wide hit. In Roy Carew’s estimation the tunes most reminiscent of Tony are, Some Sweet Day, Ice And Snow, Why Keep Me Waiting So Long, and I’m Certainly Gonna See About That.
STYLES AND TUNE DEVELOPMENT
It is conceded that Jelly Roll learned a great deal from Tony Jackson, which fact in itself places Tony in a prominent place in the development of the jazz piano. In a general way two distinct piano styles were prevalent among the early New Orleans musicians (1) the orthodox rag style which followed the harmonies of good music and (2) ragtime flavored with a certain amount of disharmony, or blues shading, sometimes called ‘honky tonk’ piano. This latter style of playing was developed by such players as Tony Jackson, Jelly Roll, Kid Ross, and Albert Carroll.
Many present day jazz enthusiasts have the mistaken impression that almost any of the old music to come out of New Orleans belongs to no one, and therefore they lay claim of free use. However, this is not the case. While a great number of the famous old jazz and ragtime tunes are traditional in type, they are in innumerable cases, developments of simple strains that were heard about town. The song, Brown Skin, is an example of such development, having originated in a simple impudent call of street urchins, ‘Hey, Brown Skin. Who You For?’ This phrase at first had no tune at all but became so widely used that two songs were inspired by it — one published by Clarence Williams in New Orleans, and the other published by Rossiter in Chicago.
It is interesting to note that when blues and jazz music began to get popular, many simple early strains which were previously undeveloped found their way into compositions that are accepted as standards — these standards being legitimate compositions of known composers, and not folk tunes, although they are that type. Jackson and Morton doubtless developed compositions from short strains which were familiar to many. This development can be observed to a lesser degree in the imitation of the styles of early New Orleans musicians which are often found in some of the compositions of their contemporaries. For example, Jelly Roll Morton, in composing The Naked Dance, worked up the tune from memory, patterned after the style which was typical of the ‘honky tonk’ piano played by Tony Jackson. Nevertheless, the finished product is a Jelly Roll composition, and the label ‘traditional’ applies only to the type of music and not to the composition itself.
Although ragtime was always a source of keen interest to Carew, music never provided a livelihood for him during those early days in New Orleans. He was continuously employed on other fields — his connections including, among others, The New Orleans Acid and Fertilizer Company, The Remington Typewriter Company, and the U.S. Customs, all located in or near the city. In addition to following ragtime as a hobby, Roy was an accomplished acrobat and tumbler and he spent many evenings working out at the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club.
It was Roy Carew’s memories of Tony Jackson and his playing that prompted him to look up Jelly Roll Morton during 1938, in Washington, D.C., nearly twenty-five years after he last saw Tony. Roy’s later association with Jelly Roll in the field of publishing Morton’s compositions brought about a close bond of friendship which lasted until Jelly’s death in 1941.
WASHINGTON, D.C. AND JELLY ROLL MORTON
Roy Carew insists that music had nothing to do with his leaving New Orleans in 1919. Some young jazz enthusiasts looked Roy up in Washington during these later years, thinking they had discovered one of those fabulous characters of the Storyville days, who would be reeking with the aroma of the far overemphasized sinful origins of New Orleans jazz. The young initiates were obviously disappointed when they discovered that Carew was not part and parcel of the general exodus that is supposed to have taken place upon the closing of Storyville. It is Carew’s opinion that the Storyville influence on jazz, and the departure of musicians from New Orleans as a result of its closing, have been stressed far out of proportion by ambitious writers. As for Roy, he left the Crescent City merely to take a better position in Washington with the Treasury Department in which department he remained until his retirement. The move to Washington effectively cut off all association with the past, and New Orleans and Tony Jackson became just pleasant memories.
Then, one night in March, 1938, while glancing through the evening paper, Roy saw the heading, ‘Jelly Roll Charts Jazz,’ with an announcement that the ‘Dean of Gates’ was running a night club on U Street in Washington, where he was playing first class piano jazz despite his years. The article concluded with Jelly’s comment on some of the early New Orleans players, mentioning that he considered Tony Jackson ‘the world’s greatest single-handed entertainer.’ That was all that Carew needed. Immediately he set out to see Jelly to learn what had become of Tony. In the following passages taken from his ‘New Orleans Recollections,’ Carew relates his first meeting and conversation with Jelly Roll at the nightclub.
‘I immediately resolved to look up Jelly Roll to find out whatever happened to Tony. . . . After finding the Music Box, which Morton had previously called ‘Jungle Inn’, I called twice before I got to see him. On my second trip, Mrs. Lyle, who I believe was his partner, told me that Jelly Roll would come in shortly, and invited me to wait. On that March day she and I talked about current events until Jelly Roll arrived. As he entered the room and walked slowly over to where we were sitting, he gave me the impression of a tired man; he evidently felt the raw cold, for his overcoat collar was turned up and he seemed to have pulled his shoulders up to bring the collar closer to his throat. He really was a sick man then, but no one knew it. As he came over, I got up and introduced myself as an old friend of Tony’s from New Orleans. . . . We sat down by the oil stove that ‘hit me in the face’ and warmed ourselves, more, I believe, by the conversation about the old days than by the heat of the stove. And to me Jelly’s conversation was indeed warming; we discussed old places, old players and old tunes. Tony, he told me, had died in Chicago about 1921 or 1922, probably from drinking too much over his many years of entertaining. As we talked, he gradually became animated and lost that tired look he had when he came in and I saw that, as far as New Orleans was concerned we were congenial spirits. . . .
On a following visit we went over to the spinet, Jelly seated himself on the bench, I drew up a chair and I suppose for well over an hour he played over the old stuff. I called to his mind all that I could think of, and then he let himself ramble on, playing whatever came to his mind out of the past. And at one point in the hour or so of stirring my musical memories, Jelly Roll played a long stretch of music that was clear cut and very smooth, of a characteristic Spanish type, that sounded almost the same, if I can trust my memory, as what I listened to that night in front of Hilma Burt’s (in New Orleans).’
FORMATION OF TEMPO MUSIC PUBLISHING COMPANY
During the balance of 1938, Carew saw a great deal of Jelly Roll. Jelly’s playing awakened dormant memories, and it was natural that visits to the nightclub were made when time permitted. Carew tried to make his visits at times when Jelly Roll would be free to talk and play, but that bit of thoughtfulness was hardly necessary, since customers seemed to be few, and it was apparent that the place was going on the rocks. Seeing the state of affairs, Roy began to give thought to some means of augmenting Jelly’s dwindling finances, and, in considering plans whereby Jelly could utilize his musical abilities to bring him financial return, Carew brought forth an idea which had been in the back of his mind for some time — that of reviving some of the old ragtime classics. Always an admirer of the St. Louis rags, and Scott Joplin’s tunes in particular, Roy felt that Joplin rags, played in Jelly Roll’s characteristic style, would have a great appeal to lovers of genuine American music. One evening he took a folio of Joplin rags to the Music Box for Jelly to try out. Jelly had always given high praise to Joplin’s rags, although he had forgotten many of them, and the folio numbers interested him; he had high regard for the Maple Leaf Rag, and also liked The Chrysanthemum, which he played over in a precise sort of fashion from the music. (Jelly had previously agreed with Carew that Rose Leaf Rag was a good rag as well as a difficult one). Plans were discussed for reviving some of the Joplin rags, with Morton popularizing his unique piano versions of them, and Carew publishing Jelly’s interpretations. However, since Jelly had some of his own tunes which presented possibilities as songs, the Joplin idea was dropped and the Tempo Music Publishing Company was formed for the purpose of placing Morton’s own compositions on the market. In the Fall of 1938, four tunes were turned out — Why, If You Knew, Sweet Substitute, and My Home Is In A Southern Town.
In order not to lose the sequence of events, perhaps it would be wise to retrace our steps back a few months to the Spring and Summer of 1938, when Jelly made the famous documentary records for the Library of Congress, under the supervision of Alan Lomax, who was curator of the Folk Music Section. Apparently, Morton undertook this project without the hope of immediate financial return for his services. He must have thought that someday the publicity would result in his music regaining for him his proper place in the music world.
Carew believes that one of Morton’s greatest contributions to ragtime was his slowing up of the customarily fast tempo, thereby permitting embellishments in the treble. The fact that Jelly was experimenting with slow tempos during his early days in New Orleans is confirmed by the Library of Congress recordings, now available to the public. Circle Sound’s Volume IV, titled ‘The Spanish Tinge,’ includes the compositions, Spanish Swat, Mama Nita, New Orleans Blues, Creepy Feeling, The Crave and Fickle Fay Creep. This one volume, a condensation of Morton’s Spanish tunes and Jelly’s wonderful comments, is so outstanding in its musical worth that it is one of the standouts of the entire set. Here is Jelly Roll at advanced years, reflective, mellow, nearing the end of the trail, playing almost indescribably beautiful music, smooth, never monotonous, and entirely different from the vigorous, rocking jazz of his youth. Not that he was incapable of recapturing some of the fiery style of his early days. A comparison of the version of the tune, Creepy Feeling, for the Library, with the faster, stompier solo for Jazz Man, both recorded about the same time, will dispel any impression that the old master had lost his touch.
JELLY ROLL MORTON vs. W. C. HANDY
In August Jelly’s widely-publicized argument with W. C. Handy appeared in Down Beat. While there were many extravagant statements made by Jelly, there was a great deal of truth in some of his allegations. Following Handy’s reply which also appeared in Down Beat, Jelly, with the aid of a dictionary, carefully prepared a seven-page letter of rebuttal, citing Handy’s own book as proof that he (Handy) did not originate the blues. This letter, edited by Carew for accuracy and elimination of wild claims by Jelly, ranks as one of Morton’s better literary gems. However, Down Beat, probably thinking that the argument had gone far enough, did not publish this letter. Morton’s masterpiece, abounding in ‘Jelly Rollisms,’ casts aspersions on Handy’s ability as an arranger. Concerning Walter Melrose, who handled some of Morton’s tunes, Jelly states that as far as this gentleman is concerned, ‘he wouldn’t know a note, even if it was as big as Gibraltar, the great rock.’ One well-known Jelly Roll twist which often crops up in the Library records was his coining the expression ‘ferninstant’ for ‘for instance.’ Carew thinks he must have considered ‘ferninstant’ to be the singular of ‘for instance,’ since he would sometimes write the latter correctly. He also points out that some shades of difference in meaning escaped Jelly — he would use ‘attendants’ for ‘attendance’ when writing of the patrons at an event.
About the time Jelly was completing the Library project, he attempted to promote a local recording company and he succeeded in interesting a group of jazz enthusiasts in a commercial recording venture. He made at least four sides in a Washington studio, which were released later by Jazz Man, under the titles, Honky Tonk Music, Wining Boy Blues, Creepy Feeling and Finger Buster. Carew remembers one evening in the late summer when Jelly appeared to be in unusually good spirits. He said he had made a recording of a fine rag that afternoon at the studio. Then he sat down and ripped off the tune in roaring, rocking style, much like the version which Jazz Man issued under the erroneous title, Finger Buster, the correct title being The Finger Breaker. Carew considers this tune to be one of Morton’s best ragtime compositions of the fast type. He recalls one of the recording sessions when Jelly made a piano and vocal version of My Home Is In A Southern Town and another piano solo of Honky Tonk Music, but these sides have never been released.
The business at the nightclub was getting progressively worse until the place was forced to close in November. Indeed, Jelly was in dire financial straits. Although he possessed a large number of copyrighted compositions to his credit, royalties from his publishers were scarcely a trickle. His situation became so serious that he finally decided to go to New York City to get work in recording studios and night clubs, since the World’s Fair was nearly ready to open, and it was believed there would be much musical activity. With the assistance of Alan Lomax and Carew, he was able to get his Washington affairs in shape to make the move.
One foreboding day in late December, Jelly loaded up his huge old Cadillac Sedan with all his worldly goods and left for Manhattan. Upon his arrival, Jelly sent Carew a telegram on Christmas, 1938, worded in the usual Jelly Roll flair:
‘ARRIVED SAFE TOUGH DRIVE ON ICE GOOD POSSIBILITIES MERRY XMAS JELLY ROLL MORTON.’
If Carew thought that this parting meant the end of his association with Jelly, he was soon to learn otherwise. In fact, Morton’s experiences in New York actually plunged Roy Carew up to his neck in music.
THE SUNSET TRAIL
During the early part of 1939, Jelly Roll had to scuffle and gig about New York at whatever type of work he could scare up. What severe hardships confronted Jelly, who was seriously ill, must be left unmentioned in this story. On one occasion when Jelly’s fortunes were hitting rock bottom, John Hammond, through the intercession of Alan Lomax, arranged an audition for Jelly with Columbia. However, the fates must have cast an evil spell, for on April 17th, the day set for the audition, Jelly was stricken and rushed to Manhattan’s Presbyterian Hospital in a very critical condition. Of course, Roy Carew came up from Washington to see Jelly whenever he could get away from his work and managed four visits to the hospital. Slowly Jelly regained his strength and his desire to live, until he recovered sufficiently to leave the hospital in May.
In September Roy received a letter from Jelly announcing the good tidings of a contract with Victor, calling for eight sides on the Blue Bird label. Thereupon the Tempo Music Publishing Company received three new compositions by Jelly to add to their catalogue, as a direct result of the Victor agreement. The tunes were, Winin’ Boy Blues, I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say, and, Don’t You Leave Me Here. The standout performance of these Blue Bird sessions might be subject to debate but one has to look far and long to find more exciting chase choruses than those executed by Bechet and Nicholas on High Society. Jelly did a nice job in turning out a pleasant, restrained version of Buddy Bolden, and his piano passages in Climax Rag should not be overlooked.
Following the Victor dates, Roy kept up a correspondence with Jelly Roll, but he did not see his friend for several months. About December, 1939, Jelly informed Roy that he had made a very promising connection with General Records to do an album of piano solos with singing, to be devoted to New Orleans music. This company had decided to break into the Jazz field and Jelly was signed as the artist to represent them in the venture.
NEW ORLEANS MEMORIES ALBUM
The events surrounding the production of the wonderful New Orleans Memories Album are known to many, but a brief retelling of the story might be of some interest. The following is an account of happenings which took place during those memorable recording sessions, as told by Charles Edward Smith in his article ‘Oh, Mr. Jelly!’ which appeared in the February 1944 issue of The Jazz Record.
‘By the time the album project was a settled thing, Gordon Mercer was with General and we had the facilities of Reeves Sound Studios to work with. This was a wonderful break, as was the whole-hearted co-operation given us. But before we went to the studios I had several sessions with Jelly at his place in Harlem. The money we would get out of it would obviously not compensate for the work involved so we decided to have a hell of a good time and do an album that would be an honest projection of Jelly and his background.’
‘We settled the tunes right there in that apartment off upper Seventh Avenue. When we walked into the studio we had the album in order, backings and all, with a couple of substitutes on hand in the event we had to light it out. We didn’t. The album went through as planned. The tests thrown out (none of them accessible now) consisted of an infamous Tiger Rag, an equally infamous Animule Ball, and a Sporting House Rag that didn’t come off. We used as many as four waxes on certain sides, because Jelly was really ill at this time, and we took a few sessions to complete the job. At Jelly’s request I sat in the studio with him as he recorded and I thought at that time I was going through as many crises as was he. On Winin’ Boy Blues, for example, he closed his eyes on the humming passage. The clock was climbing toward the three-minute mark. Gordon and the engineer motioned me frantically to nudge Jelly. I didn’t. Jelly opened his eyes slowly and murmured, ‘Oh, Mamie,’ and the number came to its close.’
Within a few weeks after the completion of the New Orleans Memories album, Jelly Roll made an agreement with General to make several sides with a band. These sides, the majority of them appearing under General Tavern Tunes, were not completely satisfactory to Jelly. In January, Jelly wrote Carew regarding his problems: ‘I had to make the recordings under adverse conditions, the men would not rehearse . . . so there will be bad spots, but there are much worse recordings.’ Later, he wrote Carew from Los Angeles on this same subject when he attempted some recordings there . . . ‘I don’t ever try to do things with inferior material, but what can you do when things are forced on you, and that’s the east method . . .’ (Jelly referred to the ‘east method’ as meaning ‘do it as cheaply as possible’).
In February 1940, Roy visited Jelly in New York where he had the chance to hear the Memories records for the first time. When all the records were played, Jelly mentioned that his contract on the recording deal came at a welcome time, when his resources had reached a low ebb. He assured Carew that he had a good contract with General. Unfortunately, Jelly’s high hopes were not borne out and there is considerable doubt that he ever got reimbursed for his services.
Reversals continued to dog Jelly during the ensuing months. No recording dates were to be had; his attempts to organize a band met with no success since club engagements could not be secured. The jobber who had agreed to distribute Jelly’s tunes failed to push them and no interest could be stimulated in that field. Probably Jelly’s memories of those glorious, prosperous days of the past when he had done so well on the West Coast between 1918 and 1923, prompted him to load up his old Cadillac and leave New York in November, 1940 to try his luck in Los Angeles. His departure for the West came as a surprise to Carew, who had no inkling of his plan to leave New York.
After Jelly arrived on the West Coast, his health failed so rapidly he was never able to do any profitable work. As is the case with so many outstanding Negro composers and jazz musicians, Jelly spent his declining years in poverty and bitterness. Roy continued to assist Jelly in every way possible during those last months of unhappiness, failure and discouragement. Jelly’s last letter to Roy was written from the Los Angeles Sanitarium in late June. He must have realized that he was on his death bed, as he intimated, in effect, ‘expect whatever you hear,’ and he died on July 10th, 1941. Just what confidences and inner thoughts Jelly shared with his trusted friend probably will never be known to the public, for Roy Carew’s role in Jelly’s life projected beyond their mutual interest in music. It was Roy’s constant urging that Jelly take steps to protect his tunes through publication, so that Jelly would have an income during his declining years, that resulted in the close friendship that lasted until Jelly’s death.
During recent years Roy Carew has continued to keep alive his deep-felt interest in New Orleans music, and ragtime in particular. In his library of sheet music, he has valued gems including early copies of Maple Leaf Rag (1899), Memphis Blues (1912), Dixie (1860), My Dearest May (1843), The Ham Fat Man (1863), and many other choice items. Although not a collector of rare discs, his taste for early ragtime and jazz prompted him to buy various records back in the old days when they were on the dealers’ shelves. Aside from a complete line of Morton Victors, he has such obscure items as Paramount 12896, Honky Tonk Train Blues (Meade Lux Lewis) Columbia 145021, How Could I Be Blue/I Found A New Baby (James P. Johnson and Clarence Williams) and OKeh 4757, Birmingham Blues/Muscle Shoals Blues (Fats Waller). But it is in the ragtime field that Carew’s main interest lies, with time off now and then to browse in the Music Division of the Library of Congress, and occasionally (very rarely of late) to write an article for a jazz magazine. His endeavors toward publishing sheet music is an outgrowth of those evenings with Jelly at the ‘Jungle Inn’, when the Tempo Music. Publishing Company was projected. After many months of sending ‘advance’ royalty checks, it was with genuine pleasure that Carew sent Morton a check representing actual royalties received. Roy treasures the acknowledgment in Morton’s next letter. ‘Thanks for the beginning, if I did not need it to do biz with, I would return it.’
Carew has made available to the public, through Tempo-Music Publishing Company’s Americana and Manuscript Editions, several of the best Jelly Roll compositions from the New Orleans Memories Album, including The Crave, Mamie’s Blues, Winin’ Boy Blues, Buddy Bolden’s Blues, and The Miserere from the Circle Sound Library of Congress recordings. These numbers are note for note interpretations of Morton’s recordings, transcribed and edited by J. Lawrence Cook. In passing, the ability of J. Lawrence Cook as a ragtime and jazz pianist of high caliber has gone unnoticed by lovers of good piano music. His playing closely parallels the styles of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, and one should not judge his talent solely by his juke box hit, Old Piano Roll Blues.
When one attempts to approach Carew on his theories of ragtime, he usually remains discreetly silent. It is true he may have some of his own pet theories, but they are a pleasure to him, and not a cause for a storm of controversy. One must not overlook the fact that Carew lived those early days in New Orleans and what he remembers is not theory, but facts as he remembers them, and there is a difference. He is lavish in his praise of Alan Lomax for his recent literary effort, ‘Mister Jelly Roll,’ and chuckled gleefully at the reviews of the book in England, including allusions to Jelly as ‘prodigious semi-pro.’ by Borneman, and ‘Ananias of Jazz,’ by Feather. Concerning ‘They all Played Ragtime,’ by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, Carew feels that it is a very good book, interesting and authoritative on the historical side.
Naturally, Roy has a high regard for those musicians and writers who have recognized the beauty and musical worth of ragtime. In the foremost ranks stands Brun Campbell, whose crusading efforts have resulted in Scott Joplin being given the place he deserves in American music. He is also gratified that an earnest group of young musicians are striving to interpret and present ragtime correctly, both in the United States and abroad.
Thus, this narrative of Roy Carew, Basin Street Stroller, draws to a close. One hopes that the joyful piano strains of such tunes as Maple Leaf and Frog-i-more, as fashioned by Roy’s expert fingers, will be heard in the Carew homestead for many years to come.
The above full-scale article was serialised in the Jazz Journal magazine, dated June 1951, Vol. 4, No. 6, pages 1—3; July—August 1951, Vol. 4, Nos. 7 and 8, pages 1—2 and September 1951, Vol. 4, No. 9, pages 1—2.