Home » blog » Jelly Roll Morton: A Pivotal Figure in Early Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton: A Pivotal Figure in Early Jazz

Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton was a New Orleans-born “Creole of color” who is considered to be one of the most important figures in early jazz.

Many peoples’ impressions of early jazz are distorted by the primitive recording equipment. The quality of the sound can be thought of as the equivalent of what people’s movements look like in silent movies. These two recordings of Morton show how subtle the music — at least his — really is.

A comment at the YouTube page featuring The Crave (above) writes that the recording was taken from a piano roll. I am not sure if the person knows that or is guessing, but it makes sense. In any case, the piece is absolutely beautiful.

64 Parishes has a nice profile of Morton:

Jelly Roll Morton was the first important composer and arranger of New Orleans jazz, as well as an agile pianist, a compelling singer, and one of the early jazz world’s most flamboyant characters. The nickname “Jelly Roll” was derived from sexual slang, and “Morton” was a stage moniker. His given first name was Ferdinand, and his surname has been variously stated as LaMothe, Lemott, or LaMenthe, while his year of birth is either 1885 or 1890. Continue Reading…

The writer of the profile points to a site — it’s name isn’t clear — which offers a tremendous amount of information about Morton.

King Porter Stomp is below.

Sign Up for TDMB Daily Email Blasts

TDMB offers daily one-video email blasts. A different genre each day of the week. They are quick hits: Just great music and a bit of context.

Sign up below or, for more info, click here. [wpforms id="37668" title="false" description="false"]

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

Get The Daily Music Break NewsletterIt's Free!