Morton and the
Ferdinand Joseph "Jelly
Roll" Morton is generally acknowledged as the first jazz
composer. The talents of this remarkable New Orleans jazz
pioneer--composer, arranger, pianist--were exceeded only by
his ego. He termed himself the inventor of jazz, claiming
this honor in his extraordinary nine hours of interviews
with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress Music Division's
Archive of American Folk Song in 1938. In those interviews,
which comprise perhaps the first extended "oral history"
ever created, Morton shows himself to be a brilliant
raconteur: over his own piano vamps, he recalls
turn-of-the-century life in New Orleans and illustrates the
evolution of ragtime to jazz.
Morton probably wrote
the "Frog-i-More Rag" in 1908 to accompany a fellow
vaudevillian known as "Frog-i-More," a contortionist who
performed in a frog costume. But Morton did not deposit the
music for copyright until 1918, for fear that any form of
public record was an invitation to purloin his ideas.
The "Frog-i-More Rag"
seen here, in Jelly Roll's own hand, is thus the first of
many copyright deposits the Library holds for Morton. Morton
recorded the rag twice in the spring of 1924 but only one of
the recordings survives; it was not released until the
1940s. This particular issue was published in 1949 by a
group of record collectors who revived the Paramount records
imprint. Paramount was a historically and musically
significant record label of the 1920s and early 1930s. The
disc and the tinted photograph of Morton are from the Nesuhi
Ertegun Collection of Jelly Roll Morton Recordings at the
Library of Congress. The Ertegun Collection contains every
commercial recording Morton ever made, all in their original
78-rpm disc format.
Text and photos from
American Treasures of the Library of Congress.
Color version of above picture