Jazz at 100 Hour 3: New Orleans Diaspora – Jelly Roll Morton & Sidney Bechet (1923 – 1928)

Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers

As New Orleans lost its commercial position as a major port and blacks fled the oppression of the American south, the cream of NOLA musicians hit the road. In the last hour, we heard the music of trombonist Kid Ory, whose Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra was the first black jazz band from New Orleans to record, and King Oliver, who’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong was the inspiration for a generation of Chicago players. Once King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band started recording in 1923 for Gennett, their impact spread across the country.

In this hour, we’ll explore the music of two more giants of the New Orleans diaspora, pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, who left Louisiana in 1908 and clarinetist and soprano saxophone player Sidney Bechet, who hit the road in 1916. In the complex racial landscape of New Orleans, both Jelly Roll Morton, born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, and Sidney Bechet, like Kid Ory, were creoles. Creoles were lighter skinned mixed-race people, who brought conservatory musical training to the mélange that became jazz.

Jelly Roll Morton.
The first great jazz composer, Jelly Roll Morton’s over-the-top self-promotion led to his reputation being diminished for decades. Recent reconsideration of his compositional skills has brought more credence to his claims of having “invented” jazz. The idea that a single individual could synthesize the divergent strains of blues, ragtime, African polyphony and sanctified singing into a new music form is questionable, perhaps even not credible. But this doesn’t mean that Jelly Roll Morton was not an important and singular contributor.

The Pearls. Jelly Roll Morton
(Jelly Roll Morton-p). 7/18/1923. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Milenberg Joys. New Orleans Rhythm Kings
(Paul Mares-cor, George Brunies-tb, Leon Roppolo-cl/as, Jack Pettis-Cm, Glenn Scoville-as/ts, Don Murray-ts, Jelly Roll Morton or Kyle Pierce-p, Bob Gilette-bj, Chink Martin-bb, Ben Pollack-d). 7/17/1923.
Morton travelled to Richmond, IN for solo sessions for Gennett Records (also the label for King Oliver’s 1923 recordings) in July 1923. For reasons that have been broadly speculated, but whose results were exemplary, Morton travelled and recorded with a group of young white musicians from NOLA by way of Chicago. This was likely the first integrated recording in jazz, although it would be another decade before mixed sessions were commonly recognized in public. Their collaboration transformed a talented, but somewhat stiff, ensemble into a swinging group.

Jelly Roll Morton solo.
In solo performance, Morton captured the multiple strains and instrumental roles of a full band with just his two hands, arguably playing with the only musician who he truly appreciated – himself.

Mamanita. Jelly Roll Morton
(Jelly Roll Morton-p). 5/1924. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
“’Mamanita’ … is probably the earliest of his jazz tangos … [C]oming to terms with tango rhythm may very well have been central to the development of jazz. Typically, ragtime rhythm is based on a syncopation that occurs ahead of the beat; the tango, on the other hand usually drops behind the beat.” – Martin Williams in the notes for Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano
Grandpa’s Spells. Jelly Roll Morton
(Jelly Roll Morton-piano roll). 6/1924.
King Porter Stomp. Jelly Roll Morton
(Jelly Roll Morton-p). 5/1924. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“King Porter Stomp” would be a huge hit for Benny Goodman in the thirties, an event that, unfortunately did not serve to resurrect Morton’s then dying career.

Red Hot Peppers
Morton’s best group work came from his associations with other New Orleans musicians who understood how to swing his compositions.

Black Bottom Stomp. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(George Mitchell-tp, Edward “Kid” Ory-tb, Omer Simeon-cl, Jelly Roll Morton-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, John Lindsay-b, Andrew Hilaire-d). 9/15/1926. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Black Bottom Stomp is a good example of the compositional sophistication that leads to the description of Morton as the first great composer in jazz. Ted Gioia says of these recordings from 1926, “… he tilled the fertile middle ground between the rigid compositional structures of ragtime and the spontaneous vivacity of jazz improvisation.” With all the emphasis on composition and ensemble playing, don’t miss Morton’s star-turn as a pianist in the middle of the piece.
Dead Man’s Blues. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(George Mitchell-tp, Edward “Kid” Ory-tb, Omer Simeon-cl, Barney Bigard-cl, Darnell Howard-cl, Jelly Roll Morton-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, John Lindsay-b, Andrew Hilaire-d). 9/21/1926. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Morton makes reference to a New Orleans funeral precession leading to some of Omer Simeon’s most beautiful clarinet work. Collective improvisation and varied orchestration make the most of the twelve-bar blues format.

Doctor Jazz. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(George Mitchell-cl, Edward “Kid” Ory-tb, Omer Simeon-cl, Johnny St. Cyr-g, John Lindsay-b, Andrew Hillaire-d). 12/16/1926. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / The Jazz Singers)
DeVeaux and Giddens finding in this selection “a penchant for anarchy”, put this performance into the continuum of American music, “The surprisingly raucous “Doctor Jazz” recorded in late 1926, exemplifies the kind of vitality that distinguished American music to the rest of the world – a bumptious optimism found not only in jazz but also in pop music, from the theatrical bravura of songs like the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm” to the big-beat mayhem of rock and roll.”

Grandpa’s Spells. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(George Mitchell-tp, Edward “Kid” Ory-tb, Omer Simeon-cl, Jelly Roll Morton-p, Johnny St. Cyr-bj, John Lindsay-b, Andrew Hilaire-d). 12/16/1926. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
In this orchestrated version of the piece he originally recorded as a solo piano vehicle, Morton used all possible combinations of players in ensemble and solo contexts to create a rich texture.
Jungle Blues. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(George Mitchell-cor, Gerald Reeves-tb, Johnny Dodds-cl, Paul ‘Stump’ Evans-as, Jelly Roll Morton-p, Bud Scott-g, Quinn Wilson-bb, Baby Dodds-d, Lew LeMar-effects). 6/4/1927.
Georgia Swing. Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers
(Ward Pinkett-tp, Geechie Fields-tb, Omer Simeon-cl, Jelly Roll Morton-p/voc, Lee Blair-bj, Bill Benford-bb, Tommy Benford-d). 6/11/1928.

“Morton assembled his Red Hot Peppers studio band, gave them written-out parts, and rehearsed them, for this was not to be a jam session. He set up a hyperactive pile of arranging devices: stop-time figures at the beginning of tunes, consistent dynamic and melodic variation between strains, and rhythmic change-ups, edging into Cuban territory, that got beyond the clichés of the New Orleans chugging two-beat. These were the first great jazz compositions.” – Ben Ratliffe

Sidney Bechet.
“…[T]he only man who, for a short while, seemed [Armstrong’s] equal as an improviser during those transitional years.” – Gary Giddens.

Kansas City Man Blues. Clarence Williams’ Blue Five
(Thomas Morris-cor, John Mayfield-tb, Sidney Bechet-ss, Clarence Williams-p, Buddy Christian-bj). 7/30/1923.
Sidney Bechet is under-recorded in the twenties, in part because he spent so much time in Europe and didn’t maintain any steady group affiliation. When he returned briefly for these sessions in 1923, he had acquired a soprano saxophone and had become the first great saxophone soloist in jazz.
Texas Moaner Blues. Clarence Williams’ Blue Five
(Louis Armstrong-cor, Charlie Irvis-tb, Sidney Bechet-cl/ss, Clarence Williams-p, Buddy Christian-bj, Virginia Liston-voc). 10/17/1924.
In describing this legendary battle in his History of Jazz, Ted Gioia writes, Armstrong “takes center stage with a brief burst of double time in his feature break, but Bechet is not to be outdone in this encounter. He lets loose a swarming cannonade of angular phrases, less fluid than the cornetist’s, but clearly signaling a determination to match any contender note for note, even the great Louis Armstrong. And this time Bechet steals the show with a bluesy coda.”

Cake Walking Babies From Town. Red Onion Jazz Babies/Josephine Beatty
(Louis Armstrong-cor, Charlie Irvis-tb, Sidney Bechet-cl/ss, Lil Armstrong-p, Buddy Christian-bj, Alberta Hunter as Josephine Beatty-voc, Clarence Todd-voc). 12/22/1924. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
There is a healthy competitive tension between the first two great soloists in jazz – Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet – that results in one of the timeless monuments to American music. Bechet takes full advantage of the strong company to freely improvise melodically and rhythmically, at times relegating Armstrong to the supporting role – truly the Clash of the Titans.

In the next hour, we’ll return to the Chicago of King Oliver. As the 1920s progressed the Chicago music scene attracted such early jazz luminaries as Louisiana born clarinetists Jimme Noone and Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines from Pittsburgh, pianist Lovie Austin from Chattanooga, and Georgia-born trumpeter Jabbo Smith. We will also explore the scant recorded legacy of Freddie Keppard, who reigned in New Orleans as Cornet King after Buddy Bolden, until unseated by Joe “King” Oliver.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
New Orleans Rhythm Kings 1922-1925: The Complete Set. Retrieval RTR 79031 2CD
Jelly Roll Morton – The Piano Rolls. Nonesuch 79363-2
Jelly Roll Morton 1926-1928. Classics 612
Classic Jazz: Vol. 019, Sidney Bechet with Clarence Williams. World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Classic Jazz: Vol. 011, Louis Armstrong (1924), Vol. 1. World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Sidney Bechet – The Victor Sessions: Master Takes 1932-43. Bluebird 2402-2-RB

Bechet, Sidney. 1960. Treat It Gentle. Cambridge, MA. Da Capo Press.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 4. New Orleans
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 2. New Orleans Jazz
Kennedy, Rick. 1994. Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy – Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz. Bloomington, IN. Indiana University Press.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet: Menage a Trois, New Orleans Style” by Bruce Boyd Raeburn.
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Jelly Roll Morton – The Piano Rolls
New Orleans Rhythm Kings 1922-1925: The Complete Set
Jelly Roll Morton 1926-1928
Reich, Howard & Gaines, William. 2003. Jelly’s Blues – The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton. Cambridge, MA. Da Capo Press.
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 6. Jelly Roll Morton, Birth of the Hot: The Classic Chicago “Red Hot Peppers” Sessions, 1926-27

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