Monday, September 20, 2010

Jelly Roll Morton Birthday

The jazz man's legal name was Ferdinand Joseph Morton born September 20, 1885 in Gulfport, Louisiana.  He came from a long line of Creoles in that fine state.  Mr. Morton was a talented musician, playing at least three instruments - harmonica, guitar and piano.  The last one got him in hot water.  Around the age of 17 he started playing piano in, ahem, 'houses of ill repute'.  As a result of this his great-grandmother got so mad she tossed him out of the family.  Which was of course was pretty tough on Jelly Roll.  (Is there a musician with a yummier name?)  But as his career continued he became well known as a musician, composer and snappy dresser. He pioneered the  diamond-in-the front-tooth look. But his real groundbreaking work was in publishing compositions. The "Jelly Roll Blues" published in 1915, was probably the first jazz orchestration ever printed.  Morton died in 1940 of "cardiac decomposition".  Yikes.  His life was the basis for the Broadway musical "Jelly's Last Jam".  Hardly anyone gets a diamond in their tooth and a Broadway show about their life.  Too cool.

Source:  Dictionary of American Biography, 1973 as accessed through Ebscohost

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