Jelly Roll Morton


Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (September 20, c. 1890 – July 10, 1941), known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer.[1] Morton was jazz's first arranger, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential characteristics when notated.

Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe into the Creole community[4] in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans around 1890, and he claimed to have been born in 1885. Both parents traced their Creole ancestry four generations to the 18th century.

At the age of fourteen, Morton began as a piano player in a brothel.[7] He often sang smutty lyrics and used the nickname "Jelly Roll", which was African-American slang for female genitalia.

The cornetist Rex Stewart recalled that Morton had chosen "the nom de plume 'Morton' to protect his family from disgrace if he was identified as a whorehouse 'professor'."

In 1912–14, Morton toured with his girlfriend Rosa Brown as a vaudeville act before living in Chicago for three years. By 1914, he was putting his compositions on paper. In 1915 "Jelly Roll Blues" was one of the first jazz compositions to be published. Two years later he went to California with bandleader William Manuel Johnson and Johnson's sister Anita Gonzalez. Morton's tango "The Crave" was popular in Hollywood.

In 1935, Morton moved to Washington, D.C. to become the manager and piano player at a bar called, at various times, the Music Box, Blue Moon Inn, and Jungle Inn, in Shaw, an African-American neighborhood. Morton was master of ceremonies, bouncer, and bartender. The club owner allowed her friends free admission and drinks, which prevented Morton from making the business a success.

In 1938, Morton was stabbed by a friend of the Music Box's owner and suffered wounds to the head and chest. A nearby whites-only hospital refused to treat him, as the city had racially segregated facilities. He was transported to a black hospital farther away. When he was in the hospital, doctors left ice on his wounds for several hours before attending to the injury. His recovery from his wounds was incomplete, and thereafter he was often ill and became short of breath easily.