BluesTone "Jelly Roll Morton" Rolls

(The above are taken from The Music Trades magazine of June 21, 1924.
Click here to see the entire article. Courtesy of Mike Montgomery)

These Jelly Roll Morton rolls are (not even arguably?) the most significant body of jazz recordings ever issued on music rolls -- no other jazz artist of this significance made as many quality rolls that not only stand on their own as great piano rolls, but stand out as significant additions to the body of recordings the composer left for us. As James Dapogny states in his masterpiece folio published for the Smithsonian Institution Jelly Roll Morton: Collected Piano Music (pg. 58): "By improvising more variations Morton was able to expand a performance when making a piano roll. He did this on several rolls..."

These rolls have probably been reissued more times than those by any other artist, and justifiably so (I've even issued two of these already). The difference this time is that Robbie Rhodes and I have gone over each of these rolls with a fine-toothed comb and corrected all the rhythmic irregularities (due to the Vocalstyle perforating process, NOT Jelly's performance) and other mistakes which occured in the originals. Two titles in particular have benefitted most from this effort: London Blues and Stratford Hunch. All word rolls are now available with the original lyrics. And this is the first time in a long time (ever??) that all 12 known Jelly Roll Morton rolls have been available at one time in one place! Even that is less impressive than the fine job that Robbie has done at correcting the glaring errors which appeared in the original rolls. After his corrections were made I layed the draft copies of each roll on top of Mike Montgomery's original and marked each and every note which had changed, then played both versions and approved every correction that appears on these production copies.

It's difficult for me to tell you what's special about each of these titles, since they're all so good and well-known from other recordings, earlier recuts, and from LP and CD reissues of the rolls. Rags and Ragtime devoted an entire chapter to Morton and his rags. Suffice it to say that these rolls all deserve a prominent place in every hot piano roll collection, and you can now fill any holes in your collection with the best recuts possible. I'll try to save my comments under each title to just what's unique about that roll; I assume you already know the tunes are all great!!

137199 Sweet Man (Pinkard) played by Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Capitol 1334) - lyric sheet included with roll

137200 Shreveport Stomp played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $16
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50481)

Sweet Man and Tin Roof Blues are the only extant Morton rolls of non-Morton material; Sweet Man is the only known Morton performance issued on the Capitol label. This reissue was copied directly from the only known original roll!

Shreveport Stomp is one of the best rolls ever made. It is also an extremely long roll, where Morton stretches out and gives us many expanded verses of his terrific New Orleans piano style. There's just little else to compare to the excitement Morton generates as he jazzes his way to the exciting climax. This and Grandpa's Spells are probably my two favorite Morton rolls.

137201 Mr. Jelly Lord played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 12973) - lyric sheet included with roll

One of three Vocalstyle word rolls, this roll needed very little editing work. This must be one of Morton's best-known tunes, and the only Morton roll with that favorite piano roll effect, the double-time ending! Be sure to see the manuscript for this tune in Dapogny's expert collection of Morton's piano music.

137202 Tin Roof Blues played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 12974) - lyric sheet included with roll

The second of three Vocalstyle word rolls, this roll was very clean too. Mike Montgomery edited the counter-melody out of his original copy and backed off all the (editor-introduced) long slots to fit the appropriate pitch and timing of a normal left hand rhythm, as a real pianist would play -- you will be impressed how much cleaner it sounds! This edited version is superior to the original and it's what you've been hearing all these years on the Biograph releases.

137203 Tom Cat Blues played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 12983) - lyric sheet included with roll

The third of three Vocalstyle word rolls also received very little editing -- none was necessary. Vocalstyle must have put more editing effort into their word rolls, since they were probably better sellers; the Morton word rolls have far fewer errors than the instrumentals. Robbie theorizes that the editor for the instrumental rolls was not even a pianist, due to some of the un-pianistic decisions that appear in many of the instrumental rolls -- not to mention the numerous rhythmic and harmonic errors; we simply don't believe that Jelly intended for these rolls to sound as rough as they originally did.

137204 London Blues
played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50479)

If you already have an original or recut copy of this roll, I encourage you to play it and listen for the jerky rhythm and other errors; I think you'll see and hear at least a few of mistakes that have plagued this Vocalstyle roll all along -- this was the sloppiest of the Vocalstyle originals before Robbie's restoration. And since this is such a classic Morton tunes (like all of the tunes issued on these composer-played rolls), they beg to be heard right. For the record, the counter melody has been suppressed here, too.

137205 King Porter Stomp played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50480)

Another Morton classic, another case of the counter-melody being suppressed, and another top-notch piano roll performance by the composer. Be sure to see the remarks about this title in Rags and Ragtime.

137206 Stratford Hunch
played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50485)

Another contender for the Morton roll most in need of help!! Counter-melody is cut back, bad chords corrected, and gross timing errors corrected extensively. This is an incredible jazz piano solo, one of Morton's absolute classics.

137207 Grandpa's Spells played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50487)

This original was relatively clean to begin with, but this recut is also enhanced by suppressing the counter-melody in the original issue. Be sure to see the remarks about this roll in Rags and Ragtime. Pardon the hyperbole, but this is a classic solo and an absolutely incredible piano roll. There is no better proof that Jelly could be every bit as great as he claimed to be! (Again, be sure to see the manuscript in Dapogny's folio.)

137208 "Jelly Roll" Blues played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on Vocalstyle 50505)

The corrections to this roll were mostly limited to choppy timing and a number of wrong notes here and there. There is almost no counter-melody in the original (thank you, Mr. Editor, for not screwing up at least one of them!) so only a couple of notes were shortened. The C and D sections really have great rhythms which should be noted.

137209 Dead Man Blues played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on QRS 3674) - lyric sheet included with roll

137210 Midnight Mama played by the composer Jelly Roll Morton $13
(originally issued on QRS 3675) - lyric sheet included with roll

The QRS operation was clearly more professional with its editing than was Vocalstyle, so no corrections were needed here at all for these two rolls. Our efforts were simply to assure that no errors were introduced in the recutting process. Midnight Mama is the same tune as Tom Cat Blues, but with new lyrics. Jelly recorded Tom Cat Blues in 1924, then reworked it as Midnight Mama in 1926.

This page last updated 12-20-2009

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