JELLY ROLL MORTON
THE JAZZ INVASION
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Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (September 20, 1890 – July 10, 1941), known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer. Morton was jazz's first arranger, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential characteristics when notated. His composition "Jelly Roll Blues", published in 1915, was one of the first published jazz compositions. Morton also wrote "King Porter Stomp", "Wolverine Blues", "Black Bottom Stomp", and "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say", the last tribute to New Orleans musicians from the turn of the 20th century.
His parents were Edward Joseph (Martin) Lamothe, a bricklayer, and Louise Hermance Monette, a domestic worker. His father left his mother when Morton was three (they were never married). When his mother married William Mouton in 1894, Ferdinand adopted his stepfather's surname, anglicizing it to Morton.
Morton's claim to have invented jazz in 1902 was criticized. Music critic Scott Yanow wrote, "Jelly Roll Morton did himself a lot of harm posthumously by exaggerating his worth...Morton's accomplishments as an early innovator are so vast that he did not really need to stretch the truth."
Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe into the Creole community in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans around 1890, and he claimed to have been born in 1885. Both parents traced their Creole ancestry four generations to the 18th century. Morton's birth date and year of birth are uncertain, given that no birth certificate was ever issued for him.
At the age of fourteen, Morton began as a piano player in a brothel. He often sang smutty lyrics and used the nickname "Jelly Roll", which was African-American slang for female genitalia. While working there, he was living with his churchgoing great-grandmother. He convinced her that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. After Morton's grandmother found out he was playing jazz in a brothel, she disowned him.