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Jelly Roll Morton was born on this date in 1890. He was a Black jazz composer and pianist who pioneered the use of prearranged, semi-orchestrated effects in jazz-band performances.
He was born Ferdinand Joseph Lamenthe into the Creole community, the Farbourge Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, around 1890. Both parents traced their ancestry four generations to the 18th century. His parents were Edward Joseph (Martin) Lamothe, a bricklayer, and Louise Hermance Monette, a domestic worker. His father left his mother when Morton was three (they were never married). When his mother married William Mouton in 1894, Ferdinand adopted his stepfather's surname, anglicizing it to Morton.
He learned the piano as a child and, from 1902, was a professional pianist in the bordellos of the Storyville district of New Orleans. He was one of the pioneer ragtime piano players, but he would later invite criticism by claiming to have "invented jazz in 1902." He was an important contributor in the transition from early jazz to orchestral jazz in New Orleans at about the turn of the century.
About 1917, he moved west to California, where he played in nightclubs until 1922. He made his recording debut in 1923, and from 1926 to 1930, he made, with a group called Morton's Red Hot Peppers, a series of recordings that gained him a national reputation. Morton's music was more formal than the early Dixieland jazz, though his arrangements only sketched parts and allowed for improvisation. By the early 1930s, Morton's fame had been overshadowed by that of Louis Armstrong and other emerging innovators.
As a jazz composer, Morton is best remembered for such pieces as "Black Bottom Stomp," "King Porter Stomp," "Shoe Shiner's Drag," and "Dead Man Blues." Jelly Roll Morton died on July 10, 1941, in Los Angeles.
All That Jazz: The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited