Jelly Roll Morton — The Pearls

Thanks to edmundusrex for the You Tube

I probably should be playing more Jelly Roll Morton records. He was an important figure in 1920’s Jazz. He was also my introduction to old Jazz. Posted here is the band version of his composition The Pearls. This version was recorded for Victor Records at Chicago in 1927. I have a different version of this in my collection so I won’t hazard a guess on who are the musicians. He also recorded The Pearls as a piano solo as well, he originally composed it as a piano solo.

In The Pearls, we have all the elements of 1920’s New Orleans Jazz as it had evolved up to that point. First, the composition has the “two beat” marching band rhythm with the tuba, as pictured.  The tuba providing the bass colors as well as a major part of the rhythm.

A second layer of the composition is what Jelly Roll called the riffs and breaks. A riff is what carries the melody. A riff can be the whole band or an extended solo by a single player. A break is a pause or a bridge in the melody, usually with a single musician, say a clarinet player, who plays a bar or two of solo between one riff and a second riff. Jelly Roll explains it a little better than I do in his Library of Congress Recordings with Allen Lomax.

But, Jelly Roll was a New Orleans Jazz man, and not every musician thought that this rigid structure was the only way to play jazz. The audiences began to tire of this as well in the 1930’s, when Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson introduced compositions and arrangements written in 4/4 time and using a looser structure of the Swing Era. I am not a partisan of either approach to music —I like New Orleans as well as Swing—Nevertheless, never underestimate novelty in music. If you have never heard the music before, it becomes Old Music Made New.

Jelly Roll Morton had his biggest years in the late 20’s, but when the bottom dropped out of the economy in the 1929,, the bottom also dropped out of jazz music. Jelly Roll took to drink and he became garrulous both in talk and actual fistfights. He made many enemies among other musicians. He had a brief revival in the late 1930’s after Benny Goodman recorded a swing arrangement of Morton’s King Porter Stomp. He was rediscovered by Dave Stuart, owner of the Jazz Man Record Shop, then located in Hollywood. Stuart stuck by Morton, but Morton was too ill to revive the dream.

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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