Jelly's Blues vividly recounts the tumultuous life of Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941), born Ferdinand Joseph Lamonthe to a large, extended family in New Orleans. A virtuoso pianist with a larger-than-life personality, he composed such influential early jazz pieces as "Kansas City Stomp" and "New Orleans Blues." But by the late 1930s, Jelly Roll Morton was nearly forgotten as a visionary jazz composer. Instead, he was caricatured as a braggart, a hustler, and, worst of all, a has-been. He was ridiculed by the white popular press and robbed of due royalties by unscrupulous music publishers. His reputation at rock bottom, Jelly Roll Morton seemed destined to be remembered more as a flamboyant, diamond-toothed rounder than as the brilliant architect of that new American musical idiom: Jazz.In 1992, the death of a New Orleans memorabilia collector unearthed a startling archive. Here were unknown later compositions as well as correspondence, court and copyright records, all detailing Morton's struggle to salvage his reputation, recover lost royalties, and protect the publishing rights of black musicians. Morton was a much more complex and passionate man than many had realized, fiercely dedicated to his art and possessing an unwavering belief in his own genius, even as he toiled in poverty and obscurity. An especially immediate and visceral look into the jazz worlds of New Orleans and Chicago, Jelly's Blues is the definitive biography of a jazz icon, and a long overdue look at one of the twentieth century's most important composers.
About the Author
Howard Reich is the veteran jazz critic of the Chicago Tribune and the winner of many awards. A longtime correspondent for Downbeat magazine, he is also the author, with William Gaines, of the critically acclaimed biography Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton. He lives in suburban Chicago.