Jelly Roll Morton, a Brief Biography Essay

Jelly Roll Morton, a Brief Biography Essay

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The music of jazz became an important aspect of American culture in the early 20th century. The crisp syncopation of ragtime and the smooth tunes of the blues seeped into American mainstream music through dance halls and saloons and later through ballrooms. Instruments like the piano, trumpet, trombone and clarinet became important and symbolized the “swing-feel” of jazz because of their capability to syncopate and improvise precisely. With the help of the booming recording industry, musical geniuses were discovered and their talent and contributions to the emergence of jazz spread throughout the entire country. Such musicians include composer, arranger and pianist Jelly Roll Morton who heavily influenced the development of early jazz by his unique piano style, his “invention” of musical notation for jazz, and his compositions that have become the core in the jazz repertory. Because the style was new and different and so successful in drawing in large audiences, musicians around the world tried to mimic it. Furthermore, Morton’s masterpieces were the first to show notation for complicated jazz music and thus, formed the basis for standard notation in jazz compositions today.
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, more commonly known as Jelly Roll Morton, was born to a creole family in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. Morton lived with several family members in different areas of New Orleans, exposing him to different musical worlds including European and classical music, dance music, and the blues (Gushee, 394). Morton tried to play several different instruments including the guitar; however, unsatisfied with the teachers’ lack of training, he decided to teach himself how to play instruments without formal training (Lomax, 8). ...


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...leans style of music and influenced how big bands in the later eras would approach jazz. The compositions provided information on how to accurately notate improvisatory jazz music on paper and thus, laid the foundation for the next stage in the jazz timeline: the swing era.
Though Jelly Roll Morton began his career without formal training, he grew to live an influential life. His piano style, musical notations on paper, and creative compositions thrived in the 1910s and the 1920s and even weaved its way into the later eras as musicians used Morton’s music as the foundation for their own. Even past his death, Jelly Roll Morton remains a legendary figure. His works are meticulously preserved and displayed in the prestigious Smithsonian Museum and universities around the world continue his legacy by teaching students about Jelly Roll Morton and his influential career.

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