The music of “Jelly Roll” Morton

Helen Daley

Ferdinand Joseph LaMonthe (October 20, 1890-July 10, 1941) is recognized as a very important character in ragtime and early jazz as a pianist, bandleader and composer who began his career in New Orleans, LA. In fact, he claimed to have invented jazz in 1902. At a young age, he took guitar lessons and explored playing trombone, drums and violin. He also learned piano and, after deciding he wouldn’t be considered a sissy, decided to focus only on piano.

With his first jobs centered around playing in the brothels of Storyville and living with a very religious grandmother, he changed his name to Jelly Roll Morton. That was part of his arrogance of wanting to be considered a stud. He bragged about how well-endowed he was. His flamboyancy was further demonstrated by the diamond he had inserted into his gold front tooth.

After his grandmother found out what Jelly Roll was doing, she kicked him out and he became an itinerant pianist traveling through many cities. He became a very active gambler, pool player and procurer. He also worked in minstrel shows.

Jelly Roll moved to Chicago in 1922 and recorded with his Red Hot Peppers in 1926 and 1927 where he combined composition and improvisation with many opportunities for all the musicians to play solos (known today as Chicago-style).

After his music was considered antiquated in the 1930s, Jelly Roll managed a jazz club and played occasionally in Washington, D.C. Ill health led him to Las Angeles in the hope that the climate would help him recover. He died there and was buried in a pauper’s grave. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

The music of Jelly Roll Morton is much loved by today’s jazz enthusiasts. Attend the March 20 Arizona Classic Jazz Society party from 1:00-4:00 p.m., as the Sun City Stomperz present the life and music of Jelly Roll Morton. The fun takes place at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, One San Marcos Place in Chandler. The cost is $10 for ACJS members; $15 non-members (become a member on the 20th and get in free; yearly membership $35 couple, single $25).

For more information go to or call 480-620-3941.