Jelly Roll Morton's Contribution To Jazz

Jelly Roll Morton claimed he invented jazz. Though he didn't actually invent it, he did make major contributions to the era which shaped the future of jazz forever!

Jelly Roll Morton was a little known jazz/ragtime pianist in the early 20th century. His impact on the genre, though practically anonymous to those outside the community, had a long lasting effect on the way we see jazz today! He was born Ferdinand La Menthe Morton in New Orleans, October 20, 1890, to parents of Creole descent. His father, a builder and part-time trombonist, left the family when he was very young, leaving the young boy to grow up depending on his wits to survive. Several of his early occupations would be considered unsavory by today's standards, including, pimp, gambling house manager, boxing promoter; all the while waiting for his break into music!

Morton's first instrument was the drums. From there, he moved onto harmonica, guitar and then to the piano that made him famous. Morton took ragtime and twisted it, stretched it, upsetting its regular meters, and expanding the instrumental families traditionally used in ragtime and jazz. His band the "Red Hot Peppers" was known for using groups of instruments playing in "harmonics". Morton's techniques pioneered the beginnings of orchestral Jazz.

While with the "Red Hot Peppers", Morton recorded 2 fairly well known songs: "The Pearls" and "Sidewalk Blues". Before forming the group, his recording of "King Porter Stomp" was released, and has been covered by countless bands. Legend has it that it the 1930's, Morton defiantly interrupted a very popular swing band in mid-performance, climbed on stage and showed them how it SHOULD be played.

30's academic, Alan Lomax, had Morton's music, piano playing, and shrewd views and opinions on jazz extensively recorded and documented for a Library of Congress collection. Looking back on his career, like many geniuses of days past he was mocked and unappreciated in his own time. Now, he is considered a cornerstone of modern jazz and a giant in the African American history of music!

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