Tuesday, August 18, 2020

NRR Project: 'Black Bottom Stomp'

 Black Bottom Stomp

Composed by Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers

Jelly Roll Morton, piano; Kid Ory, trombone; Omer Simeon, clarinet; George Mitchell, trumpet; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; John Lindsay, double bass; Andrew Hilaire, drummer

Recorded: Sept. 15, 1926

 Once again, for thoroughness and accuracy in contextualizing this entry I must doff my hat to the National Recording Registry, which features Burton W. Peretti’s expert essay.

 Ferdinand LaMothe started playing piano in New Orleans whorehouses in 1897 at the age of 14. From this salacious beginning, he embarked on a long and checkered career of making music. Along the way he changed his name to “Jelly Roll” Morton (jelly roll being slang for vagina). Along the way, he helped to invent jazz.

Vain ebullient, and ambitious, Morton played all over the country in all manner of venues and shows. He developed his talent, and in 1915 he published “Jelly Roll Blues,” one of the first jazz compositions put to paper. He made his home base Chicago, as that city had become an African-American cultural hub, a lure that drew early jazz musicians up from the South.

“Black Bottom Stomp” is a textbook illustration of what he brought to the genre. Morton was a composer, and he brought seriousness and discipline to jazz. Previously, tunes had been worked out by the musicians in “head arrangements” that were developed in performance and remained in the memory only. Morton committed the work to paper, fleshing it out with arrangements that balanced and contrasted the instruments in the ensemble.

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The tune takes off like a rocket, whizzing through the air at you. This is what was to be described as “hot jazz” (later referred to as Dixieland or trad jazz). At the time this recording was made, Louis Armstrong was making his Hot Five and Seven records, which mark a progression away from fast-paced raucous music-making toward more lyrical efforts. This was the original New Orleans ensemble approach, making up more than the sum of its parts instead of serving as a frame that showcases the talents of a particular soloist. Intense and rhythmically challenging, frantic and madcap, it dares the listener to dance.

Morton’s style was soon passé, and he passed into obscurity. Hot jazz was eclipsed until it returned in the 1950s as a reaction to the complexities of bebop. Recorded interviews with music historian Alan Lomax in the late 1930s helped preserve Morton’s legacy, and something of the man himself.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: ‘Fascinating Rhythm.’.





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