Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)

Jazz is a beautiful mixture of composition and improvisation and has such rich textures that shape the sound of Jazz. One of these textures is known by the name, Jelly Roll Morton.

Jelly Roll Morton was a “Creole” composer…

Creole –

  • A person of European ancestry born in the West Indies or Spanish America.

  • A person descended from or culturally related to the original French settlers of the southern United States, especially Louisiana. (Dictionary)

who learned from and worked with black New Orleans musicians. His heritage was that of French Haitian decent and he had changed his name from LaMothe to Morton.

“One of the most colorful characters in American Music , Morton worked as a bordello pianist , pimp, pool hall hustler and comedian before establishing himself as a fastidious musician and recording artist–a pianist, singer, composer, arranger, and music theorist. He was also a diamond tooth dandy insufferable braggart,occultist, and memoirist.” (Deveaux, pg.65)

Jelly Roll made continuous claims that he was the true inventor of jazz, stating that he had been born in 1885, when in fact, he was born in 1890. Even though he cannot be attributed to the invention of jazz, he certainly propelled it into new heights and new possibilities, in a time when nobody really knew what Jazz was or was going to be.


Chicago, 1922, Morton was 33 years old when he spent 2 hot afternoons at the ramshackle Gennett Records Studio in Richmond, Indiana. It was in this studio he recorded with a very talented white band named “The New Orleans Rhythm Kings.”. One of the songs they recorded was called the “King Porter Stomp.”

A current Jazz standard – “King Porter Stomp.”

This is a great example of how he took “…the multiple theme structure and syncopated rhythms of ragtime to a new level, emphasizing a foot-tapping beat (he called “Stomp”) and tricky syncopations.”.


The Red Hot Peppers

In 1926, Jelly roll started playing with ensembles of 7-8 people and he referred to his group as “The Red Hot Peppers”.

It should also be noted that this was the same time that the “Victor Talking Machine Company” switched from acoustical to electrical technology, which made the recordings have a vivid fidelity, which was unlike anything ever recorded before in Jazz.

“What Morton’s music embodies above all is the raw, restless social energy of the early years of the century, when Jazz was a new hustle and the rules had to be made before they could be broken.”. (Deveaux, pg. 65)


Dead Man’s Blues

This is another Jazz standard that Jelly Roll is responsible for composing.

“A number of blues choruses in collective New Orleans style, this is Morton’s take on the New Orleans burial ritual. This is highly organized with even the bass lines written out. There is also an overlay of ragtime structure with various sets of choruses as ragtime strains.” (Deveaux, pg. 66)


The End of Morton

In the 1930’s, Jelly Roll’s music became dismissed as “hopelessly Outdated” and he would never know how impactful he truly was on the world of Jazz. At the end of his life, he was broke, ignored and belittled. He was truly one of the guiding figures in the shaping of the Jazz art form and is remembered now as “genuinely original, thoughtful, sensitive and permanent artist.”(Deveaux, pg.67)

Here is an extra tidbit to satisfy your craving for a little more Jelly Roll Morton.


DeVeaux, Scott Knowles, and Gary Giddins. Jazz: Essential Listening. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

“Yahoo Dictionary Web Search.” Creole. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <;_ylt=A86.JydAvNZUXQMAfeInnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTB0aWRtNmFyBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2dxMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwMV8x?p=Creole&amp;.sep=>.