The Father of Hot Piano Essay

Submitted By courtneyconejo
Words: 1016
Pages: 5

Courtney Rossel
DIS 1K: Kristina
December 3rd, 2012
The Father of Hot Piano The 19th century gave rise to some of the most renowned jazz musicians of all-time—one of those being the charming Mister Jelly Roll Morton. Born in 1885 and raised by a Creole family in the vivacious city of New Orleans, Morton found his attachment to jazz music at a young age. Ferdinand Lamonthe, enshrined as Jelly Roll Morton, became the first great composer and ragtime piano player of jazz. He was adored not only for his musical talents, but also for his flamboyant arrogance and self-promotion that no other jazz musician of his time possessed. Because of Morton’s ability to write down his arrangements in musical notation and create a whole new swing to the rhythms of ragtime, he is regarded as the inventor of jazz today. Everyone who heard his music reputed Morton’s style of piano playing as one of the finest. As stated by Gushee, he “is inclined to accept the showman in Morton without embarrassment” and refer to him as “a wonderful jazz musician” (391). Morton’s electric approach consisted of a synthesis of ragtime, classical music, the blues, stomps, and other influences of the time. According to Morton, his style of playing could be applied to any type of music. It incorporated plenty of striding and finger work, as well as improvisation and unique tempos (Lomax 267). The piano style was formed from early secondary ragtime, similar to “boogie woogie”. Morton often played the melody of a tune using his right thumb, and played the harmony of the song with the other fingers on his right hand, adding an “out-of-tune” or syncopated sound. Apart from the European and African styles of music already fused into jazz, Morton presented an entirely new flair, “the Spanish Tinge”. It brought Afro-Cuban rhythm into his music, and connected the Caribbean culture of rhumba and habanero into his work. In his song titled “The Cave”, written in 1922, the Latin influence of tango and salsa is easily heard. On top of the Spanish influences, Morton’s use of “stop time” created energy that can be heard in his songs “Black Bottom Stomp and “Grandpa Spells”. Using silence—Morton built up the momentum of the song and with a dramatic introduction of the solo, he kept his listeners wanting more (Sandmel). Before Jelly Roll Morton’s early twenties he had already traveled through Louisiana and Memphis where he began writing and recording songs. In 1915, Morton had written and published “Jelly Roll Blues”—the first published jazz composition:
Up until then, everything had been in the heads of the men who played jazz out of New Orleans…Most of the so-called jazz musicians still don’t know how to play jazz until this day; they don’t understand the principles of jazz music…So around 1912 I began to write down this peculiar form of mathematics and harmonics that was strange to all the world. (Lomax 147)
Building his momentum, he left California in 1922 to conquer Chicago. His reputation as a jazz performer became widespread and so did his ego. By 1923, Morton was recording nonstop. From that period on, most of his creative and innovative music was produced. Songs like “King Porter Stomp”, “Kansas City Stomp”, “New Orleans Blues”, and “Original Jelly Roll Blues” emerged as popular Morton’s popular tunes. Along with his recordings came his one of kind performances with his band the Red Hot Peppers. Morton’s skills as a composer and arranger were apparent in both his recordings and performances with his band. Combining clarity with a wide-range of talent, he allowed each band member a chance at playing a solo, a rare occurrence in early jazz performances. Jelly Roll continually brought New Orleans’s top musicians to his evolving band, constantly exchanging ideas and sharing suggestions with each other for improvement. As a result, the Red Hot Peppers became a model for jazz compositions to come, influencing everyone from Sidney Bechet, Kid Ory, Zutty…