New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton): Mr. Jelly Lord
Mr. Jelly Lord (4th take)
New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton)
New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Jelly Roll Morton (Milestone 47020)
Jack Pettis (C-melody saxophone), Glenn Scoville (alto sax, tenor sax), Don Murray (clarinet, tenor sax), Bob Gillette (banjo), Chink Martin (tuba), Ben Pollack (drums).
Composed by Jelly Roll Morton.
Recorded: Richmond, Indiana, July 17, 1923
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
Jelly Roll Morton was quick to boast of his achievements. He was a crack shot with a gun; had a winning stroke with a pull cue; he was the first to use brushes (fly-swatters in this instance) on the drums; he was the first master of ceremonies with witty sayings; and, of course, he claimed to have invented jazz. If you give half of Morton's claims some credence, he was a whole Tonight Show—host, band, and guest put together—on his own. I'd even let him do the commercials, given his skills at peddling his own stuff.
But Morton never bragged about participating in this first racially integrated jazz recording session—which left us this track, and a handful of others from a 1923 date in Richmond, Indiana. Yet this is a milestone event, much more important than anything you can do with a fly-swatter. And the music? Two different schools of thought exist about this historic collaboration. The conventional view is that Morton taught these white boys a thing or two, and loosened up their stiff conception of jazz. The opposing camp holds that the New Orleans Rhythm Kings already knew what they were doing, and that Morton was a sideman not a professor at the date.
Since Morton takes no solo here, he may seem to be playing a minor role. But his comping behind Roppolo (whose name is often misspelled as 'Rappolo") is excellent, and clearly inspires this under-appreciated clarinetist to some heartfelt playing. This interlude is followed by an inspired burst of ensemble double-time playing, where one can clearly hear Morton driving the band. These ten seconds are the most energized and cohesive part of the performance.
My verdict: This band didn't need Jelly Roll to teach them about jazz melody lines, which they understood and played lucidly, but he definitely enhanced the rhythmic flow of their work. Too bad this was just a one-time collaboration in the studio. They might have shaken up the jazz scene—and, of course, the general public in that segregated era—if they had taken their show on the road.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia
If you liked this track, also check out
A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks edited by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Jelly Roll Morton Tracks by Rob Bamberger
Jelly Roll Morton by David Tenenholtz