Jelly Roll Morton created history when he sat down with Alan Lomax to record the Library of Congress recordings in 1938. Never before had an artist of Morton #8217;s knowledge, and yes, fanfaronade, put so much into words. For the first time we heard from a pioneer who had actually been there. Historians will argue about the truth of what Morton says. The fact is, he actually said it, and so we can judge from the horse #8217;s mouth.
What follows is a transcription by Michael Hill, Roger Richard and Mike Meddings of Jelly Roll #8217;s actual words. #8220;Actual #8221; is a relative term. We are, on a small number of occasions, unsure of some of his Creole-influenced pronunciation. At times, Alan Lomax, and others, are heard in the background as a muffled sound. Ergo some of the transcription is subject to a little poetic licence.
The essence of Jelly Roll #8217;s musical genius comes though. You sense his disappointments, the giant ego, put down by the Depression of the Thirties. However, he was never a man to give up. And here we also perceive the chutzpah of the artist. #8220;I #8217;m still here, #8221; he shouts. Thus Morton #8217;s words and music cement his place in the annals of jazz greatness.
Morton speaks in response to Alan Lomax #8217;s occasional prompting. Generally however, we hear a monologue. Sometimes Jelly Roll #8217;s speech is rambling and disjointed, but overall he weaves a credible and fascinating storyline from nearly a century ago. His words are eloquent and sometimes quite erudite. Characters long dead and long forgotten #8212; except to this great artist and storyteller #8212; come to life again.
Jelly Roll Morton was a denizen of the tenderloin and of the sleazy underbelly of life. So we might be shocked at some of the obscene language, the crude depictions of commercial goings on, the brutality and heartlessness depicted. Accept these we must though, if we want to view the world that he worked in, and which in part informed his creativity. Like Cellini, Jelly Roll was both genius and imperfect human being in one.
Special thanks to Michael Hill, Roger Richard, Prof. Lawrence Gushee, Prof. James Dapogny, David Sager, Peter Hanley, Millie Gaddini, Brian Goggin and Robin Penna.
© 2003 Mike Meddings