Jelly Roll Morton (c.1890–1941)


Possibly 20th October 1890, or 20th October 1885, or 20th September 1885…! In any case, he was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

Jelly Roll Morton’s grave in Los Angeles


10th July 1941 in Los Angeles, California, USA.


Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles.

Some great pieces.
  • King Porter Stomp. (See below for a video.)
  • Wolverine Blues.
  • Jungle Blues.
  • Jelly Roll Blues.
  • Sobbin’ Blues.
  • Black Bottom Stomp.
  • Plus many, many more!
Some famous recordings:
  • Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers (1926–1928).
Some great collections:
  • Jelly Roll Morton Complete Recorded Works 1926-1930.
  • Jelly Roll Morton Centennial: His Complete Victor Recording (1926–1939).
  • The Complete Library of Congress Recordings (1938).
  • Plus many more!
Some interesting facts:
  • He was one of the first great jazz artists!
  • In fact, he wrote, “I myself, happened to be the creator of jazz in 1902.” This probably isn’t completely true (and certainly isn’t if he was born in 1890!). He did like showing off!
  • He was a true composer. Many jazz artists do not actually write much music themselves. Jelly Roll Morton was different. He wrote loads of music himself!
  • He was a piano player and led small bands.
  • He was one of the great jazz artists of the 1920s and played in the New Orleans style (which is where he came from).
  • His recordings with the Red Hot Peppers are some of the best jazz recordings of the 1920s.
  • He was a bit of a rascal! He liked gambling. He also liked hanging around places and people that weren’t very respectable.
  • When he first started playing jazz he was living with his great-grandmother. She was very religious. When she found out that Jelly Roll Morton was playing jazz, she threw him out of her house! She said he had disgraced the family!
  • He was called Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe when he was born, but changed his name later on.
  • He was what is known as a ‘Creole’—a descendant of the French who once lived in New Orleans and Black Americans.
  • His style of music went out of fashion when &#8216swing’ became popular in the 1930s. He found it hard to make money after that.
  • Not only that, but one of the first swing artists, Benny Goodman became famous partly from a recording of Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘King Porter Stomp’! Jelly Roll Morton got no money from this whatsoever!!
  • He died poor and almost unknown :-(.

Here is a video of Jelly Roll Morton and his band playing Courthouse Bump.

Jelly Roll Morton and his band playing ‘Courthouse Bump’

And here is a video of someone else playing Jelly Roll Morton’s King Porter Stomp.

‘King Porter Stomp’ by Jelly Roll Morton

Picture credits:
  1. Jelly Roll Morton. This photograph is cropped from group photo of musicians and entertainers in Los Angeles, California, at the Cadillac Club, taken around 1917 or 1918. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. Jelly Roll Morton’s grave in Los Angeles. This photograph was taken by A.J. Marik. I have obtained permission from him to use the image here. Click here for the source of this image.
Video credits:
  1. Jelly Roll Morton “COURTHOUSE BUMP” (1929). “Courthouse Bump”
    Composed by Jelly Roll Morton
    Performed by Jelly Roll Morton and his Orchestra
    Recorded July 9, 1929, Camden, New Jersey

    Jelly Roll Morton – piano, director
    Boyd Rositer – trumpet
    Walter Briscoe – trumpet
    Charlie Irvis -trombone
    George Baquet – clarinet
    Paul Barnes – soprano saxophone
    Joe Thomas – alto saxophone
    Walter Thomas – tenor saxophone
    Barney Alexander – banjo
    Harry Prather – brass bass
    William Lewis – drums.

    There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.

  2. Jim Hession plays King Porter Stomp by Jelly Roll Morton. An early Morton composition (1905) that achieved great commercial success over many decades. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.