Library of Congress Narrative
 Jelly Roll Morton and Alan Lomax
 Transcribed by Michael Hill · Roger Richard · Mike Meddings

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS NARRATIVE
Introduction  ·  Legend  ·  Recommended Listening  ·  References
AFS 1638 A to AFS 1651 B  ·  AFS 1652 A to AFS 1663 B
AFS 1664 A to AFS 1680 B  ·  AFS 1681 A to AFS 2489 B
Circle Limited Edition Set of 45 twelve-inch records  ·  Kudos

Contains offensive language

Readers should be aware that a number of the recordings contain obscene language, which some may find offensive. To retain historical accuracy, no attempt has been made to censor them.

INTRODUCTION

Jelly Roll Morton created history when he sat down with Alan Lomax to record the Library of Congress recordings in 1938. Never before had an artist of Morton’s knowledge, and yes, fanfaronade, put so much into words. For the first time we heard from a pioneer who had actually been there. Historians will argue about the truth of what Morton says. The fact is, he actually said it, and so we can judge from the horse’s mouth.

What follows is a transcription by Michael Hill, Roger Richard and Mike Meddings of Jelly Roll’s actual words. “Actual” is a relative term. We are, on a small number of occasions, unsure of some of his Creole-influenced pronunciation. At times, Alan Lomax, and others, are heard in the background as a muffled sound. Ergo some of the transcription is subject to a little poetic licence.

The essence of Jelly Roll’s musical genius comes though. You sense his disappointments, the giant ego, put down by the Depression of the Thirties. However, he was never a man to give up. And here we also perceive the chutzpah of the artist. “I’m still here,” he shouts. Thus Morton’s words and music cement his place in the annals of jazz greatness.

Morton speaks in response to Alan Lomax’s occasional prompting. Generally however, we hear a monologue. Sometimes Jelly Roll’s speech is rambling and disjointed, but overall he weaves a credible and fascinating storyline from nearly a century ago. His words are eloquent and sometimes quite erudite. Characters long dead and long forgotten — except to this great artist and storyteller — come to life again.

Jelly Roll Morton was a denizen of the tenderloin and of the sleazy underbelly of life. So we might be shocked at some of the obscene language, the crude depictions of commercial goings on, the brutality and heartlessness depicted. Accept these we must though, if we want to view the world that he worked in, and which in part informed his creativity. Like Cellini, Jelly Roll was both genius and imperfect human being in one.

Special thanks to Michael Hill, Roger Richard, Prof. Lawrence Gushee, Prof. James Dapogny, David Sager, Peter Hanley, Millie Gaddini, Brian Goggin and Robin Penna.

© 2003 Mike Meddings



1638 A

a

1638 A

b

Alabama Bound — v/sp/p
May 23, 1938

c

Alabama Bound
Ferdinand (Jelly Roll) Morton, played on the piano and sung by,
Coolidge Aud., Washington, D.C.
May 23, 1938
The story of the song and its background (cont’d on B)

d

ALABAMA BOUND Part I “I was down on the Gulf Coast.”

e

Circle jm-67

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: I’M ALABAMA BOUND no. 1 (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of “I’m Alabama Bound”

Plays Alabama Bound softly as he speaks

When I was down on the Gulf coast, in nineteen-four, I missed going to the St. Louis Exposition, to get in a piano contest, which was won by Alfred Wilson of New Orleans. I was very much disgusted because I thought I should have gone. I thought Tony Jackson was gonna be there, and of course that kind of frightened me. But I knew I could have taken, er, Alfred Wilson.

So then I decided that I would, er, travel about different little spots. Of course I was down in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the time. I used to often freq . . . er, frequent, er, the Flat Top, which was nothin’ but a old honky tonk, where nothin’ but the blues were played. There was fellas around played the blues like Brocky Johnny, Skinny Head Pete . . . Old Florida Sam and Tricky Sam, and that bunch.

What did they play?

Why, they just played just ordinary blues — the real lowdown blues, honky tonk blues.

What are the names of some of ‘em?

Well, for an instant, er, Brocky Johnny used to say, er, sing a tune something like this. The title was, er:

[recited]

“All You Gals Better Get Out and Walk,
Because He’s Gonna Start His Dirty Talk.”

[inaudible comments]

That’s right.

So we happened to truck down to, er, Mobile. At that time I was supposed to be a very good pool player. And I could slip upon a lot of people playing pool, because I’d played piano and they thought I devoted all my time to the piano. So we gotten Alabama bound. And the frequent saying was, any place that you was goin’, why, you was supposed to be bound for that place. So in fact, we was Alabama bound, and when I got there I wrote this tune called “Alabama Bound.” It goes this way:


Alabama Bound

     I’m Alabama bound,
     Alabama bound,
     If you like me, sweet baby,
     You gotta leave this town.

     When that rooster crowed,
     When the hen ran around,
     If you want my love, sweet babe,
     You’ve got to run me down.

     She said, “Don’t you leave me here,
     Don’t leave me here,
     But, sweet papa, if you just must go,
     Leave a dime for beer.”

     I said, “Sweet mama babe,
     Sweet mama babe,
     If you must stay,
     I’ll be gone for days and days.”

Note:  Jelly Roll mentions the Flat Top honky tonk in Alan Lomax’s book Mister Jelly Roll. [MJR 41]

Note: The Flat Top honky tonk was owned by Arthur Glover and relied on the trade of local turpentine distillery workers who frequented the place for gambling, which included the card game Georgia Skin. [OMJ 141]

1638 B

a

1638 B

b

Alabama Bound — v/sp/p

c

d

ALABAMA BOUND Concluded “He had a knife right on me.”

e

Circle jm-68

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: I’M ALABAMA BOUND no. 2 (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Time in Mobile

Plays Alabama Bound softly as he speaks

Of course, I wrote this tune, er, while I was in Alabama about the year of nineteen-five, when I was about, er, twenty years old. I was considered very good amongst my friends — that is, so far as the writing period. And I’ve always had a kind of a little inkling to write a tune at most any place that I would ever land.

Of course, we had King Porter around there — that is, I mean, Porter King — the man that “King Porter Stomp” was named after. He was considered a very good piano player. And of course, we had, er, King — I disremember his name — I think his name’s Charlie King, another piano player around there. Baby Grice was another one, that was supposed to be good.

Where was this?

Er, that was all in Mobile. Baby Grice was, was from Pensacola, Florida. Then we had another one around that was supposed to be very good from Florida, also. His name was Frazier Davis. And Frank Rachel was supposed to be the tops, when it came down to around Georgia. But somehow or another, most all those boys kinda felt that I had, er, little composing ideas, and always tried to, er, that is, encourage me to play some numbers. That is, er, write a number, I mean. So that’s why I wrote “Alabama Bound.”

Let’s hear you play it on the piano.

What you wanna me to do?

Bang it away on the piano.

Alabama Bound

That’s the way I’d play it for the girls, who’d do the high kicks.

Said, “My, my, play that thing, boy.”


[laughs]

[inaudible comments]

And I’d say, “Well, certainly do it, little old girl.”

That’s just the way they used to act down in Mobile in those days, around St. Louis and Warren, part of the Famous Corner. I never will ever forget, after I beat some guys playing pool, if it wasn’t for one of my piano playing friends, you’d never heard this record because the guy was gonna knife me right in the back, I’m tellin’ you. He had a knife right on me. He said that I only used the piano for a decoy, which he was right.

[inaudible comments]

And, of course, er, he had it, had added to his mind that I was kind of nice looking. Imagine that, huh? Well, I said . . .

[laughs]


Of course, he wasn’t such a good-looking fellow his-self. He had some awful rubber-looking lips, I’m telling you.

[laughs]


Yes indeed. He was kinda jealous of me — I suppose he was, anyhow.

     But I said, “Alabama bound . . . ound,
     Yes, Alabama bound,”
     One of them good-looking gals told me,
     “Baby, come on and leave this town.”

     I got put in jail,
     I got put in jail,
     There wasn’t no one in town,
     Wouldn’t go my bail.

     They had a sweet, sweet gal,
     They had a sweet, sweet gal,
     She got stuck on me,
     And took me for her pal.

1639 A

a

1639 A

b

King Porter Stomp — sp/p
May 23, 1938

c

King Porter Stomp
Jelly Roll Morton
L.C., Washington, D.C.,
May 23, 1938
Piano piece with story of its composition. (Over-recorded)

d

KING PORTER STOMP

e

Circle jm-23

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: KING PORTER STOMP no. 1 (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: King Porter Stomp

King Porter Stomp

“King Porter” was the first stomp, or the first tune with the name stomp, wrote in the United States.

[clears throat]


You must pardon me for clearing my throat, ‘cause I’ve gotta do it occasionally.

Of course, I’ll tell you the fact about it, I don’t know what the name stomp mean, myself. It really wasn’t any meaning, only that people would stamp their feet, and I decided that the name stomp would be fitted for it.

Of course, this tune . . . I was inspired by the name from a very dear friend of mine, and a marvellous pianist, now in the cold, cold ground — a gentleman from Florida, an educated gentleman with a wonderful musical education, far much better than mine. Er, this gentleman’s name was Mr. King — Porter King.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Porter King on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s early travels” page.

1639 B

a

1639 B

b

King Porter Stomp — sp/p
You Can Have it, I Don’t Want it — sp/p
Monologue on stolen jazz tunes and why they weren’t copyrighted — sp

c

(A contd.)
You Can Have It I Don’t Want It.
Story of stolen jazz tunes and why they weren’t copyrighted.

d

I. “He had a yen for my style.”
II. YOU CAN HAVE IT

e

Circle jm-24

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: YOU CAN HAVE IT, I DON’T WANT IT (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of “King Porter Stomp”

Er, this gentleman was named Porter King, as I before stated. And, of course, he seemed to have a kind of a yen for my style of playin’, although we had two diffferent styles of playin’. And, of course, he particularly liked this type of number that I was playin’, and that was the reason that I named it after him — but not Porter King. I changed the name backwards and named it “King Porter Stomp.”

Er, this tune become to be the outstanding favourite of every great hot band throughout the world that had the accomplishments and qualifications of playin’ it. And until today, this tune has been the cause of many great bands to come to fame. It has caused the outstanding tunes today to, er, to use the backgrounds that belong to “King Porter” in order to make great tunes of themselves.

What . . . er, when did you write this, Jelly?

Er, this tune was wrote the same year as “Alabama Bound,” in nineteen-five. It was wrote the same time with another tune that I wrote. Of course, I never got any credit for it. Mr. Williams — Clarence Williams — got the credit for it.  It was “You Can Have It, I Don’t Want It.”

How does that go?

Er, well, it went something like this.

You Can Have It, I Don’t Want It

There was no words, it was a lot of foolish words to it.

     You can have it, I don’t want it,
     Papa, Lord God, take it from me,
     Papa, Lord God, take it from me,
     Oh, take it from me.

     You can have it, I don’t want it,
     That’s the thing I say,
     Oh, my baby, yes, baby,
     You can have it from me.


Of course, it didn’t sound so good, see? But, er, Clarence Williams thought it was all right, and he’d taken a number that was really his first hit. It was my material because I used to . . . In fact, I happened to be the man that taught Mr. Williams how to play. And of course I don’t intend to say anything unless it’s real facts, and it’s really fact. Of course, we’ll finish up by playing “King Porter Stomp” do you think?

Why didn’t, why didn’t you ever copyright any these tunes way back then?

Well, I’ll tell you why we didn’t copyright ‘em. We didn’t copyright ‘em for — that is for a great reason — not only me, but a many other. Why, the publishers thought that they could buy anything they wanted for fifteen, twenty dollars. Well, the fact was that, at that particular time, the sporting houses were all over the country and you could go in any town. If you was a good piano player, just as soon as you hit town, you had ten jobs waiting for you. So we all made a lot of money, and ten, or fifteen or twenty or a hundred dollars didn’t mean very much to us during those days. I’d really like to see those days back again. I’m telling you the truth. They were wonderful days.

So the publishers, we didn’t give ‘em anything. So they decided, ‘We know where to get ‘em.’ So they’d — a lot of publishers — would come out with tunes, our melodies, and they would steal ‘em. But we kept ‘em for our private material. That is, to battle each other in battles of music. Battles of music is old, ages old. And of course, if we had the best material, we was considered one of the best men. And of course, the best player always had the best jobs. And the best jobs always meant plenty of money. When I made a hundred dollars a day I thought I had a small day. And now today if I make ten, I think I’ve got a great day. That’s how that was.

Is there any, any other information you would like to ask?

1640 A

a

1640 A

b

Monologue on his ancestry, early life and first music lessons — sp

c

Jelly Roll tells the story of his life and musical studies (1)
J.R’s ancestry and his early musical education.

d

ANCESTRY AND BOYHOOD

e

Circle jm-5

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Jelly Roll’s Background

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Ready?

Yeah. Well . . . Jelly Roll, er, tell us about yourself. Tell us where you were born, who your folks were, and when, and how?

Well, I’ll tell you. As I can understand, my folks were in the city of New Orleans long before the Louisiana Purchase. And all my folks came directly from the shores — I’m not so sure as I mean from France. That’s across the world — in the other world. And they landed here in the New World years ago. I remember so far back as my great-grandmother and great-grandfather.

Tell us about what their names were, Jelly.

Er, their names . . . my great-grandfather’s name was Emile Péché. That’s a French name. And the grandmother was Mimi Péché. That seems to be all French, and as long as I can remember those folks, they never was able to speak a word of American or English. And . . .

Did they own slaves?

Er, well, I don’t know. I don’t think they had no slaves back there in Louisiana, I don’t think so. I don’t know, but they never spoke of anything like that. Er, but anyway, er, my great . . . my grandmother, her name was Laura. She married a French settler in New Orleans by the name of Henry Monette. That was my grandfather. And either one of them spoke American or English.

Well, my grandmother bore sons named Henry, Gus, Neville and Nelusco — all French names. And she bore the daughters, Louise and Viola and Margaret. That was the three daughters. Louise, her eldest, her elder daughter happened to be my mother — Ferd Jelly Roll Morton. Of course, I guess you wonder how the name Morton come in. Why, the name Morton being a English name, it wouldn’t sound very much like a French name. But my real name is Ferdinand LaMothe.

My mother also married one of the French settlers in New Orleans out of a French family, being a contractor. My father was a brick contractor — bricklayer — making large buildings and so forth and so on.

We always had some kind of a musical instruments in the house, including guitar, drums, piano and trombone, and so forth and so on, harmonica and Jew’s harp. We had lots of them. And everybody always played for their pleasure — whatever the ones that desired to play. We always had ample time that was given us, and periods, to rehearse our lessons, which was given to anyone that was desirous in accepting lessons.

But of course, the families never — the family I mean — never had an idea that they wanted musicians in the family to make their living. They always had it in their mind that a musician was a tramp, other than, er, other than the exceptions . . . with exceptions of, er, the French Opera House players, which they always patronized. They only thought they was the great musicians in the country. In fact, I myself was inspired by going to the French Opera House once. Because the fact of it was I liked to play piano, and the piano was known at that time to be an instrument for a lady. So I had . . . it in my mind that, er, if I played piano, I would be misunderstood.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth ancestry of Jelly Roll Morton on the “Genealogy” page. With contributions from Prof. Lawrence Gushee, Lillian L. Stevenson, Phil Pastras, Roger Richard and Mike Meddings.

Note: Nelusco, mentioned by Jelly above, is not really used as a first name in France. It is taken from the leading male character in Meyerbeer’s last opera, L’Africaine (actually Nelusko in the opera) produced posthumously in 1865. [RR 1]

1640 B

a

1640 B

b

Monologue on his ancestry, early life and first music lessons — sp

c

J.R’s ancestry and his early musical education.

d

BOY AT THE PIANO

e

Circle jm-6 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: THE MISERERE, “straight,” begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Music Lessons

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Did they used to call you sissy?

Er, well, no, they didn’t . . . they didn’t call me sissy, but they always said that, er, that, er, a piano was a girl’s instrument. So then I had taken to the guitar, er, that was due to the fact that my godmother was always interested in me. And I become to be a very efficient guitarist, until I met, er, Bud Scott, one of the famous guitarists in this country today. I was known to be the best. And when I found out that, er, he was dividing with me my popularity, I decided immediately to quit playing guitar and try the piano, which I did secretly — that is, with the exception of my family. They’re the only ones that knew.

I taken lessons. I tried under different teachers and I’d find that most of them were fakes, those days. They couldn’t read very much theirselves. During that time they used to have, er, in the Sunday papers different tunes come out, and when these tunes would come out, it would be my desire to have to play these tunes correctly.

At the time I had a coloured teacher by the name of Mrs. Moment. Mr. Moment was no . . . Mrs. Moment was no doubt the biggest ham of a teacher that I’ve ever heard or seen since or before. She fooled me all the time. When I’d take these numbers and place in front of her, she would rattle them off like nobody’s business. And at about the third one she rattled off sound like the first one. Then I began to get wise and wouldn’t take lessons any further. Then I demanded I would either go by myself and learn the best way I knew how, or be placed under an efficient teacher, which I was then placed under a teacher at the St. Joseph University, a Catholic University in, in the city of New Orleans.

And I become to learn under the Catholic tutelage, which was quite efficient. I then later taken lessons from a, a known professor, coloured professor, named Professor Nickerson, which is considered very good. I tell you things was driving along then.

Then one day at the French Opera House, going there with, with my folks, I happened to notice a pianist there that didn’t wear long hair. That was the first time I decided that the instrument was good for a gentleman, same as it was a lady.

What was his name and when was this?

Well, I don’t remember his name but I . . . undoubtedly I was . . . must have been about ten years old. I don’t remember his name.

That was about when?

Well, er, er, that was no doubt about the year of nineteen ninety-f . . . er, er, eighteen ninety-five.

Was he from France?

Well, he’s supposed to be. All the French Opera players was supposed to be from France. I remember the old building very well on Royal Street.

Do you remember any of the stuff they used . . . the pianists used to play in the French Opera?

Well, they used to play numbers like “Faust” and tunes like that, you know — French numbers. And for an instant, they used to play this number and sing it and . . .

Miserere [begun]

Did they, er, play any Debussy? Do you remember?

What was that?

Did they play any Debussy?

Well, I don’t remember now, it’s . . .

Did you ever hear . . . of a composer named Gottschalk?

Yes.

Did they use to play his stuff around there?

No doubt they did, but I was kind of young at that time. This is “Miserere” from Il Trovatore.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Mrs. Moment on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Prof. Nickerson on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of the French Opera House on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

1641 A

a

1641 A

b

Monologue on his ancestry, early life and first music lessons — sp

c

Bienville’s saloon and the congress of pianists

d

I. THE MISERERE
II. BOYHOOD MEMORIES

e

Circle jm-7

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: THE MISERERE, “straight,” concluded (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Miserere

Miserere [concluded]

Of course, that was the type of number that, er, the type of number that they used to play in the French Opera House. And it was one of the tunes that, er, has always lived in my mind as one of the great favourites of the opera singers. I’ll tell you the truth, of course. I transformed a lot of those numbers into jazz time. And from time to time — for an instance, “Sextet” from Lucia — of course there’s a little . . . different little variations and ideas in it . . . no doubt would have a, a tendency to detract, or to masquerade the tunes.

As I mentioned before, that my name was LaMothe. LaMothe was really my name. But father wanted me to be a hard-working boy. He wanted me to, er, work in the bricklayer trade. He wanted to pay me two dollars a day as a foreman. I decided after I learned to play music that I could make more money, which I interceded.

In my younger days I was brought in to the Tenderloin District by friends — young friends, of course — even before we were in long pants. We used to steal long pants from around the fathers and brothers and uncles and so forth and so on.

Could you go down there before you had long pants on?

No, why, the policemen would run you right in jail. They’d run you ragged. I remember Fast Mail very well. Fast Mail was his — known to be Fast Mail because he had two legs and feet that couldn’t be beat. Of course, we kids from time to time would climb those eight and ten board, er, ten feet-high board fences. We’d really climb ‘em and get away from these people, but they kept us right out of the District. Take the straps on the end of the clubs and . . . and just make switches out of ‘em — cut our legs into ribbons. I was very frightened, I was very much frightened.

I happened to invade that section, one of the sections of the District where the birth of jazz originated.

Where was this, and how old were you?

Er, at that time, er, that was the year of nineteen-two. I was about seventeen years old. I happened to go to Villere and Bienville, at that time one of the most famous nightspots after everything was closed. No, only a backroom, where all the greatest pianists frequented after they got off from work. All the pianists got off from work in the sporting houses at around four or after, unless they had plenty of money involved. And they would go to this Frenchman’s — that was the name of the place — saloon. And there would be everything in the line of hilarity there. They would have even millionaires come to listen to the different great pianists, what would no doubt be their favourites maybe among ‘em.

Note: Jelly Roll’s recollection of The Frenchman’s was accurate and its existence was confirmed by Sammy Davis in the late 1940s, even before he had heard the very limited release Circle Library of Congress recordings. Nevertheless, the proprietor of the saloon remained a mystery, recognized only by the nationality of his birthplace. In early 2003, Lawrence Gushee’s search of the 1910 census records for Bienville Street revealed that John (Jean) Laban was indeed The Frenchman.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of The Frenchman’s on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

1641 B

a

1641 B

b

Monologue on his ancestry, early life and first music lessons — sp

c

(Bienville’s saloon and the congress of pianists)

d

THE STORYVILLE STORY

e

Circle jm-84 (excerpt)
Circle jm-47 (excerpt)

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Stomping Grounds

What did they used to play?

Well, they played every type of music. Everyone, no doubt, had a different style.

Were they white and coloured both?

They had every class — they had Spanish, they had coloured, they had white, they had Frenchmen, they had American . . .

Do you remember, er, specifically, they . . . Were they Frenchmen who had just come from France, there in those places?

Well, er, we had ‘em from, er, all parts of the world. New Orleans was the stomping grounds, we’ll say, for all the greatest pianists in the country. Because there were more jobs in that section of the world, in that . . . for pianists, than any other ten places in the world. The reason for that, they had so many mansions — sporting houses that paid nothing to no pianist. Their salary was a dollar a day in the small places that couldn’t afford to pay. The big places guaranteed five dollars a night. If you didn’t make five dollars, they would pay you five dollars. But that was never the case, because when you didn’t make a hundred dollars, you had a bad night.

Such houses as Hilma Burt’s next, next door to Tom Anderson’s saloon, corner of Custom House . . . and Basin Street was one of her mansions. Tom Anderson was supposed to be the husband of this Hilma Burt. Was no doubt one of the best paying places in the city.

How much would you make there?

Well, I never made, never no night, as I remember, under a hundred dollars. It was a very bad night when we made a hundred dollars. It was very often, men would come into the houses and hand you a twenty, or hand you forty, or fifty-dollar note. It was just like a match.

Wine flowed . . . much more than water, di, er, did, during those periods. And many of those houses, there’s more wine sold than beer — I mean, the kind of wine I’m speaking about I don’t mean sauterne or nothing like that — I mean champagne. Beer was sold for, for a dollar a bottle. Wine sold from five to ten, depending upon the type of wine that you bought. Of course, they were all imported. Er, among the main ones were Clicquot, which is a Fran, er, which is a French wine, and Mumm’s Extra, er, Extra Dry — that was an English wine.

Well, you were tellin’ us about this hangout for pianists.

Yes.

Who used to be down there?

Well, I, I didn’t finish on that — I was only getting to this point — why we had so many pianists. Well, after four o’clock in the morning, all the girls that could get out of the houses, they were there. There weren’t any discrimination of any kind. They all sat at different tables at any place that they felt like sitting. They all mingled together as they wished to, and everyone was just like one big happy family.

People from all over the country came there. There were most times that you couldn’t get in. This place would go on from four o’clock in the morning at a tremendous rate of speed, with plenty of money, and drinks of all types, till maybe twelve, one, two, three o’clock in the daytime. Of course, when they . . . when the great pianists used to leave then all the crowds’d leave. Among some of these great pianists, I may mention some that I remember very well. Sammy Davis, one of the greatest manipulators, I guess I’ve ever seen in the history of the world on a piano.  And the gentleman was . . . had a lot of knowledge in music.  I may mention . . .

Was he white or coloured?

He was a coloured boy.

Where was he from?

He was from New Orleans, born and reared in New Orleans. He was a Creole.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Tom Anderson on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Hilma Burt on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s footnote about Clicquot and Mumm’s Extra Dry wines on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Sammy Davis on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

1642 A

a

1642 A

b

Sammy Davis’ Ragtime Style — sp/p
Pretty Baby — v/sp/p

c

Jelly Roll’s story (3)
Sammy Davis and other N.O.’s pianists

d

SAMMY DAVIS and TONY JACKSON
PRETTY BABY

e

Circle jm-47 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: SAMMY DAVIS’S STYLE (excerpt)
Rounder CD 1091 as: PRETTY BABY (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Style of Sammy Davis

For a . . . Er, for a little illustration of Sammy Davis.

[microphone repositioned]

I will see if I can imitate him just a bit.


Sammy Davis’ Ragtime Style

That’s a stomp.

[inaudible comments]

Well, I don’t know the name of this tune. It’s . . . I only remembered a little bit of it. Of course, it’s been years since I’ve seen Sammy and . . .

Is that a ragtime tune?

Yeah, that’s considered ragtime. That was one of his styles though. Most everybody had a different style. And among ‘em we had, er, no doubt, according to what I can understand from throughout, throughout the country, Tony Jackson always frequented this place. And Tony was considered among all who knew him, the greatest single-hand entertainer in the world. His memory being something like nobody’s ever heard in the music world. There’s no tune that would ever come up from any opera, from any show of any kind, or anything that was wrote on paper that Tony couldn’t play by memory.

One of Tony’s great tunes that he wrote some years ago, about the year of nineteen-thirteen or fourteen, was “Pretty Baby.” I guess we all remember “Pretty Baby” all right. It was a million dollar hit in less than a year. I’ll demonstrate a little bit of it.


Pretty Baby

     [sings falsetto]

     Pretty Baby . . .

     [clears throat]

Oh, boy, when I’d, I’d do that.

[laughs]


He’d know I was coming in when he’d hear me do that, you see? And then he’d sing it.

     You can talk about your jelly-rolls,
     But none of them compare.
     Pretty baby o’ mine,
     Pretty baby of mine.


Then among, er . . . Er, he would be among the great favourites. He was no doubt the outstanding favourite in the whole city of New Orleans. I have never known any pianist to come from any section of the world that would leave New Orleans victorious. We had so many different styles, that whenever you came into New Orleans — it wouldn’t make any difference if you just came from Paris, or any part of . . . England, Europe, or any place — whatever your tunes were over there, they were the same tunes in New Orleans. Because the boys always played every type of tune, and especially Tony. He played all the high-class numbers, same as the low. He was the outstanding favourite, no doubt in the city of New Orleans, by both white and black.

Was he coloured, too?

He was very coloured. He was real dark, and he wasn’t a bit good looking. But he’s . . . had a beautiful disposition.

1642 B

a

1642 B

b

Monologue on Tony Jackson — sp

c

d

TONY JACKSON, ALFRED WILSON, ALBERT CARROLL and KID ROSS

e

Circle jm-48

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Tony Jackson was the Favorite / Dope, Crown, and Opium

Yes, Tony Jackson was no doubt the favourite, as I have before stated. And he was a favourite among all. He had such a beautiful voice and such a marvellous range. His range on a blues tune would be just, just exactly like a blues singer. On a opera tune it would be just exactly as an opera singer. And he was always one of the first with the latest tunes. And he never went in for battles of music very much, but he never did shun. When they’d call on Tony, he was always there.

He went to Chicago and he was the favourite there. He was very much instrumental in me going to Chicago first. Very much to my regret, because there was much more money in New Orleans than there were Chicago. But Tony Jackson liked the freedom that was there. Er, Tony happened to be one of these gentlemens, er, that’s called — a lot of people call him a lady or sissy or something like that. But he was very good and very much admired.

Well, was he, er, was he, er, a fairy?

Er, I guess it’s a . . . he’s either a ferry or a steamboat, one or the other, I don’t know.

[both laugh]

One or the other. I guess it’s a ferry. That’s what you pay a nickel for, I guess. Anyway, Tony was a great favourite in the city of Chicago, also. He was no doubt the outstanding favourite in the city of Chicago, until he enticed me to go to Chicago on several trips. I got the blues and went back to New Orleans. I finally stayed . . . for a while, until a contest came up once and successfully, I won a contest over Tony Jackson. That threw me in first line. I never believed that the contest was given to the right party, even though I was the winner. I always thought Tony Jackson should have had, I’m saying, the emblem as, as, the winner.

Well, er . . . tell us something about what used to happen at those funerals in New Orleans.

Well, I haven’t finished. Well I . . .

Let’s get back, get back down . . .

You wanna get back down there? Well, I haven’t gone from New Orleans see, because, you see, in the Frenchman’s, er, we had, er, Alfred Wilson and Albert Carroll. They’re both great pianists. Both of those boys were coloured. And we had big Kid Ross, a white boy. Kid Ross was one of the outstanding hot piano players in the country, there was no question about it. In fact, all these men I’ve mentioned, they was hard to beat. Er, Kid Ross, he was the steady player at Lulu White’s, one of the big mansions in New Orleans, and one of the big sporting houses there.

Tony Jackson, he used to play at, er, Gypsy Schaeffer’s, one of the most notoriety women I have ever seen in a high-class way. She was a notoriety kind that everybody liked. She spent her money and didn’t hesitate about spending it. And her main drink was champagne. And if you couldn’t buy it, she’d buy it in abundance.

Alfred Wilson didn’t care to work very much, neither did Albert Carroll. Sammy Davis was good and he knew it, and he didn’t care to work.

Well, poor Alfred Wilson, the girls taken to him and showed him a point where he didn’t have to work, that he could have as much money as he needed without working. He finally become to be a dope fiend. He got in, he got on hop. Er, that’s the plain name that they call it, ordinary name, which is taken for opium. He . . .

Did many of these people take dope?

Yes, many of ‘em. Many of ‘em, the higher-class ones . . . even. The higher-class ones always used opium. And then the lower ones they resorted to cocaine, crown, heroin and morphine, and so forth and so on.

What’s crown?

Er, crown is some kind of powder form, er, a drug that you can . . . that you could at that time buy in most all of the druggists in New Orleans. There wasn’t, er, nothing prohibitive about it. It was some sort of a thing like cocaine.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Kid Ross on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: We have used Gypsy Schaeffer as the spelling for the name of one of Storyville’s best known bordello proprietors. However, there are a number of variants of both the Christian name and the surname by which she was known. The variants of her name and the sources are:

Gypsy Schaeffer
“Gipsy” Shaffer
Gipsy Shafer
Gipsy Shaffer
Gipsy Shaefer
Gypsy Shafer

 Blue Book
 Blue Book (later edition)
 1915 Soards’ New Orleans City Directory
The Mascot newspaper, New Orleans
The Sunday Sun newspaper, New Orleans
The Sunday Sun newspaper, New Orleans

Note: I have been unable to trace Gypsy positively in either the 1900, 1910 or 1920 United States Censuses, probably because she did not live at her place of business, as many other Storyville proprietors did. [PH 8]

1643 A

a

1643 A

b

Tony Jackson’s Naked Dance — sp/p
Monologue on sporting life in New Orleans — sp

c

Tony Jackson’s Naked Dance
The Honky Tonk
Fines for carrying guns

d

I. THE NAKED DANCE
II. SPORTING LIFE

e

Circle jm-85 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: Tony Jackson’s NAKED DANCE (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Poor Alfred Wilson

Poor Alfred Wil, Wilson smoked so much dope till he died. Albert Carroll, he was known as the greatest show player that ever was in existence, as I can remember. I don’t know if Albert Carroll ever did smoke any dope, but he was a great gambler and he’d stay up all night. He was always fat and sound. He had very bad eyes, he would always squinch ‘em all the time.

I can plainly say this for Tony Jackson. I don’t remember at any time that anybody ever stated that Tony used any dope. Er, for your information I will try to play one of, er, Tony Jackson’s fast speed tunes like he used to play years ago.


Naked Dance

Tony used to play these things for what, er, in the sporting houses, for what they called the “naked dances.” Of course, they were naked dances all right, because they absolutely was stripped.

[inaudible comments]

They were stripped. Of course, a naked dance was something that, er, was supposed to be real art in New Orleans. And, er, that was one of the tunes I guess we all played, but we always accredited Tony Jackson to be the best player of this type of a tune.

Of course, there were many houses in New Orleans. The District there was considered the second to France, meaning the second greatest in the world, with extensions for blocks and blocks, on one side of the north side of Canal Street, which is supposed to be the highest class — although the highest class district ran from the lowest to the highest, meaning in price and calibre alike.

We had a uptown side of the District, which was considered very big, but the price was pretty much even all the way round. And of course they turned out a many different artists in that section, but never the first-class artist, because the money wasn’t there.

Well, what were some of tunes they used to play down in the lower-class district?

Well, they played, for an instant, around the honky tonks like, er, like Kaiser’s honky tonk, and the Red Onion and Spano’s. Those were honky tonks. I’ll tell you the fact about it, I, I don’t think some of those places were swept up in months. And they’d have a gambling house in the back there. Of course, every place had a gambling house in New Orleans because the doors were taken off the saloons from one year to the other.

Of course, I don’t know any time that the racetracks ever closed down. They’d have a hundred days of races at the City Park and the minute they’d close down, the next day they would be at the Fair Grounds for a hundred days.

So that would have a continuous . . . a continuous racing season in New Orleans, which meants three hundred and sixty-five days a year. So gambling was always wide open.

These honky tonks had these dirty, filthy places where they gambled, and they had a lot of rough people that would fight and do anything else. It was really dangerous to anybody that would go in there that didn’t know what it was all about. And they always had an old broke-down piano with some inferior pianist. And they would play something like this.

Note: See also Peter Hanley’s in-depth “portrait” of Alfred Wilson on the “Portraits from Jelly Roll’s New Orleans” page.

Note: The proprietor of Spano’s bar, or honky tonk, was Paul Spano. He was born 1873 in New Orleans of Italian parents. He was recorded as a bar-keeper in the 1910 U. S. Census.  [PH 1]

1643 B

a

1643 B

b

Honky Tonk Blues — v/p

c

d

HONKY TONK BLUES I

e

Circle jm-87

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: HONKY TONK BLUES (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Honky Tonk Blues / In New Orleans, Anyone Could Carry a Gun

Well, the girls’d start. They’d say, “Play me something there, boy, play me some blues.” So they’d start playin’ in this way:

Honky Tonk Blues

[inaudible comments]

     I could sit right here, think a thousand miles away,
     Sit right here, think a thousand miles away,
     Since I had the blues this bad, cannot remember the day.

     Tell me, baby, what you got on your mind,
     Tell me, baby, what you got on your mind,
     I’m eating here and drinkin’, havin’ a lovely time.

     Let me be your wiggler, till your wobbler comes,
     Let me be your wiggler, till your wobbler comes,
     You tell your wobbler, what your wiggler done.

     I never believe in havin’ one woman at a time,
     I never believe in havin’ one woman at a time,
     I always have six, seven, eight or nine.

     She said, “Babe, oh, baby,
     Babe, oh, baby,
     You bound to set your sweet papa cra . . . crazy.”


Sometimes they’d have good lookin’ . . . good lookin’ women of all kinds. Beautiful women, some was ugly, very ugly. Some looked like they had lips . . . lips looked like bumpers on a boxcar.

[laughs]

I’m tellin’ you they had all kind of ‘em dressed up. Rags . . . rags looked like ribbons on some of ‘em. Some of ‘em with big guns in their bosoms. It was the law in New Orleans that anybody could carry a gun if they wanted — almost. ‘Course it was just about a ten-dollar fine, er, didn’t make very much difference. And if they found you ten dollars . . . why, your sentence would be thirty days in jail. And possibly they’d put you in the market to clean up the market in the mornin’. And most of the prisoners would always run away.

1644 A

a

1644 A

b

Monologue on New Orleans honky-tonks — sp
Levee Rambler Blues — v/p

c

New Orleans in its free and easy days — rich & poor blacks and white mixing unrestrictedly.
Levee Rambler Blues
piano & singing

d

LEVEE MAN BLUES (“It was a free and easy place.”)

e

Circle jm-87 (excerpt)
Circle jm-83 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: LEVEE MAN BLUES (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: New Orleans was a Free and Easy Place

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Yes, I’m telling you, they’d . . . they put ‘em in the market sometimes, and, of course, they’d run away, as I before stated. So the thirty days didn’t mean anything.

Of course, it was a free and easy place. Everybody got along just the same. And, er, and that’s the way it was. There wasn’t no certain neighbourhood for nobody to live in — only with the St. Charles Avenue district, which is considered the millionaires dis . . . district — in fact it was.

And that’s how it was. Why, everybody just went anyplace that they wanted. Many times you would see some of those St. Charles Avenue bunch right in one of those honky tonks. They was around — they called theirselves slummin’, I guess, but they was there just the same. Nudging elbows with all the big bums. And I’ll go so far to say that some of them were even lousy. You would meet many times with some of those fellows that was on the levee. Such as the, the inferior longshowmen, er, longs what is it? Longshoremens — is that right?

Yeah.

And screwmens. And many of ‘em I would doubt . . . er, that, er, very unclean. Some of them was even lousy I believe. I’ve known many cases where they’d take a louse and throw on another guy that was dressed up to get him in the same fix that they were in.

[laughs]

Oh, it was a funny situation.

Do you remember any of the stuff that they sang, Jelly?

On the levee?

Yeah.

Well I used to sing something . . .

Levee Man Blues

     I’m a levee man,
     I’m a levee man,
     I’m a levee man,
     Yes, I’m a levee man.

     I said, “Captain, captain,
     Let me make this trip,”
     I said, “Captain, captain,
     Let me make this trip.”

     If you do, captain,
     I will get my grip,
     If you do, my captain,
     Let me go home and get my grip.

     ‘Cause I need the money, oh, the money, babe,
     And I need it bad,
     I need the money,
     And I need it bad.

     Because I want my money,
     ‘Cause I never had,
     I want a lot of money,
     ‘Cause I never had.

Tell about Stack-a-Lee.

Stack-a-Lee was, er, was one of the, one of the verses that went into . . . Oh, what do you call this number’s wrote and rewrote in St. Louis? “Stack-a-Lee and Billy Lyon” ‘bout the “milk-white Stetson hat”? That’s, er . . .

1644 B

a

1644 B

b

Monologue on Aaron Harris — sp/p

c

Aaron Harris, his story told by J.R.

d

AARON HARRIS Part I

e

Circle jm-33 (excerpt)

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of Aaron Harris

[inaudible comments]

Tell us about some of these bad men they had down in New Orleans.

Well, I believe Aaron Harris was, no doubt, the most heartless man I’ve ever heard of or ever seen. I knew him personally, but I really didn’t know the man until I had known him for quite a while. He used to love to play pool. And I was, er, supposed to be a very good pool player.

Plays chords softly as he speaks

So, every day he used to play me for two dollars. It was really his object to try to win some money off me, because he knew I played piano in the sporting houses every night. And we all made a lotta of money, so it was his object to try to beat me. So I’m playing this man every day and nobody tells me that it was Aaron Harris. At this time I believe he had eleven killings to his credit, including his sister and his brother-in-law. Somehow or another he got out of all, all the trouble that he ever was in. So, one day he said to me, with his last money.

He said, “Let me tell you something.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He says, “If you make this ball on my money, I’m gonna take every bit of the money you’ve got in your pocket.”

I said, “Well, a lot of people, you know, they go to the graveyard for taking. I got what it takes to stop you.”

He said, “What is that?”

I say, “A hard-hitting thirty-eight special. And that’ll stop any living human. You have your chances to take my money, because if I can make this ball, in the pocket she goes.”

I raised my cue high in the air, because my taw ball was close under the cushion. And I stroked this ball, and into the pocket she went. It was then that Aaron Harris found that he had been playing a shark all the time. So, undoubtedly, he decided I didn’t know he was Aaron Harris, at the time. Of course, I never would have spoke to him like that if I had a’known it, see?

He said, “Okay kid, you’re the best. Loan me a couple of dollars.”

I said, “Now, that’s the way to talk. If you wanna couple of dollars, I’ll be glad to give it to you. But don’t never take anything away from me ‘cause nobody ever does.”

After leaving, at that time one of the big gamblers in New Orleans, a good friend of mine, that used to wear a diamond stud so big that he could never get the tie — no kind of a tie — firm enough to hold that diamond in place that it would stand straight up, it would hang down. His name is Bob Rowe. He’s a man that owns strings of racehorses on the track when he died some years ago. He said to me, he says, “Kid,” — I guess he’s a little older than I — he says, “Don’t play that fellow no more.”

I said, “Why? Why should I eliminate playing a sucker? He brings money here every day for me. Why should I pass up money?”

He say, “You know who you playin’?”

I say, “Why, certainly, I should know. Why I beat him every day. He’s my sucker, that’s who he is.”

He says, “Yes,” says, er, “You know him, don’t you?”

I said, “I do.”

He said, “What’s his name?”

I said, “Don’t know his name, but I know him.”

He said, “Well, I’ll tell you his name and maybe you’ll know him better.”

I says, “Okay, let’s have your . . . let’s have you divulge it.”

He says, “Okay,” he says, “That’s Aaron Harris.”

Thought I’d come near passing out.


[laughs]

I says, “From now on, I won’t play Aaron Harris no more.” So I’ll play one of the, well . . .

1645 A

a

1645 A

b

Aaron Harris was A Bad, Bad Man — v/sp/p

c

Jelly Roll’s story (5)
The ballad of Aaron Harris

d

AARON HARRIS Part II

e

Circle jm-34 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: AARON HARRIS BLUES (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of Aaron Harris, continued / Aaron Harris Blues

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Of course, I never played Aaron Harris no more. From then on, I decided to be good friends with Aaron. And I didn’t want Aaron’s money any more. Well, of course, they wrote a song about Aaron, because Aaron was known to be a ready killer. I wouldn’t be saying this now, but he’s dead and gone because he got killed. But here’s the song they wrote about him:

     Aaron Harris was a bad, bad man,
     Aaron Harris was a bad, bad man,
     He is the baddest man,
     That ever was in this land.

     He killed his sweet little sister and his brother-in-law,
     He killed his sweet little sister and his brother-in-law,
     About a cup of coffee,
     He killed his sister and his brother-in-law.

     He got out of jail, every time he would make his kill,
     He got out of jail, every time he would make a kill,
     He had a hoodoo woman,
     All he had to do . . . pay the bill.

     All the policemens on the beat, they had him to fear,
     All the policemens on the beat, had old Aaron to fear,
     You could always tell,
     When Aaron Harris was near.

     He pawned his pistol one night to play in a gambling game,
     He pawned his pistol one night to play in a gambling game,
     When old Boar Hog shot him,
     That blotted out his name.

Plays chords softly as he speaks

That was the baddest man I ever seen. Boy, that man was terrible. That man would chew pig iron and spit it out into razor blades. And chew the, er . . . I’m telling you, he’d chew glass up, if it was necessary — the same thing that would cut a hog’s entrails out. He’s a tough man, Aaron Harris was. He was no doubt the toughest.

Note: Aaron Harris (1880-1915) was one of 14 children of a black New Orleans grocer, George Harris, and his wife Mary Jane Moore. The family lived at 2238 Cadiz Street in the 13th Ward in 1900. Despite his reputation, Harris was never convicted of a crime in New Orleans, although he stood trial for the murder of his brother, Willis Harris, in 1910. Aaron was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. After a heated argument, Willis attacked Aaron with a razor, and Aaron coolly shot his brother dead. In 1915, Aaron was working as a cotch dealer for various gambling houses. Boar Hog, the nickname of George Robertson, a watchman for the Frisco Railroad Company, had accused Aaron of stealing goods from the company. Aaron, never one to ignore a challenge, threatened to kill Boar Hog.

On the fateful night of 14th July 1915, Aaron left work and was walking down Tulane Avenue when he encountered Boar Hog. He reached for his Colt ·41 but Boar Hog was quicker and shot Aaron twice with his Colt ·44. Aaron fell to the ground, and the blood-splattered “heartless killer” never moved again in this life. As Leadbelly sang in the Los Angeles studios of Capitol Records in October 1944, when he recorded that thrilling blues-ballad called Ella Speed, Aaron Harris “was dead, goin’ home all re-ragged in red.” [PH 5]

1645 B

a

1645 B

b

Monologue on Aaron Harris, Madam Papa Loos, Sheep-Eye and Robert Charles — sp

c

The story of the Robert Charles riot — 1900

d

I. AARON HARRIS, concl.
II. ROBERT CHARLES, Pt. I “Robert Charles was a marksman”

e

Circle jm-35 (excerpt)

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Aaron Harris, His Hoodoo Woman, and the Hat that Started a Riot

Plays chords softly as he speaks

See, Aaron, er, I guess the reason why he got out of trouble so much . . . It was often known that Madame Papaloos was the lady that, er, always backed him when he got in trouble. I don’t mean with funds or anything like that. Money wasn’t really in it. As I understand, she was a hoodoo woman. Some, some say voodoo, but we . . . it’s known in New Orleans as hoodoo.

Well, er, Madame Papaloos is supposed, that is — from, er, certain evidences — to tumble up Aaron’s house. Take all the sheets off the bed. Tumble the mattresses over. Put sheets in front of the glasses. Take chairs and tumble ‘em all over. That is said, and known to, er, discourage the judge from prosecutin’. And of course, the different witnesses, er, have all their tongues supposed to be tied. They supposed to tie ‘em with, er, buy lambs’ tongues, and, er, beef tongues and veal tongues out of the markets, and stick ‘em full of needles. That is what I understand. I don’t know, but I’ve never seen ‘em. Stick pins and needles all through ‘em. And take some, er, we’ll say, twine, in order to make it real secure and tie these tongues up. And that’s supposed to have the prosecuting attorneys, and the judges, and the jurors, and so forth and so on, have their tongues tied that they can’t talk against whoever the victim’s supposed to be. Not the victim, but, er, the one that’s arrested — the prisoner.

So Aaron Harris was always successful in getting out of all of his troubles. Of course, they had a lot of bad men in New Orleans, because New Orleans . . . wherever there’s money, there’s a lot of tough people, there’s no getting around it. But they had a lot of swell people there too.

We had another tough guy by the name of Sheep Bite. He was the toughest man in the world, until Aaron Harris showed up. When Aaron . . . Aaron Harris showed up, he was just like a lamb, like anybody else. He was also one of those raiders go round the games — the cotch games as they call ‘em. Er, they what you . . . cotch game is what you call, er, a three-card Spanish poker — and take all the money, and curse you and beat and kick you, take a pistol and slap you across the head. It was all right, when Aaron Harris walked in. Why, he’s just the nicest little boy you ever seen in the world.
[laughs] He’s nice, lovely, see?

Do you have any songs about Sheep Eye?

No, never had a song about him, see? Because he really was yellow, see? Listen . . . I hope that he’s dead, because if he ever hears this, I’ll be dead soon, see? [laughs]

What about, er, Robert, er . . .

Robert Charles? Well, they never . . . there was a little song about Robert Charles, but I don’t remember it. Robert Charles, er, would you like to hear about that?

Yeah. I want to hear it. Please.

Er, er, Robert Charles . . . How’s that?

[inaudible comments]

Yeah.

Er, Robert Charles was a man that sold papers at the Dryades Market, at Dryades and Melpomene, in New Orleans. And a very swell fellow. One day, he had some trouble with his wife, an argument, and she went out and got a policeman. And the policeman wanted to arrest Robert Charles, according to the information that I gather, which, I feel is very authentic, because I only lived four blocks from Robert Charles at that period.

And Robert Charles was under arrest. And the policeman didn’t want him to have his hat. So he broke away from the policeman and taken a Winchester rifle and killed him. And from that it started the riot. It was known as the New Orleans Riot. That happened way back there around, I guess, er, nineteen-hundred, or pretty little close around there.

Note: The open-air Dryades Market was located at Dryades and Melpomene streets, now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. It was one of many city-owned public markets that sprung up all over New Orleans. Photograph (c. 1950) courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.  [HNOC]

1646 A

a

1646 A

b

Robert Charles’ story — sp

c

Robert Charles story

d

ROBERT CHARLES. concl. “All for the trouble of Robert Charles”

e

Circle jm-35 (excerpt)
Circle jm-36 (excerpt)

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of the 1900 New Orleans Riot and the Song of Robert Charles

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Well, after that, why, he shot the policeman, as I stated, see, and killed him. And seemingly, that Robert Charles must’ve been a marksman. It was later learned that Robert Charles made all of his own bullets. And had a couple of barrel of bullets. Barrels of ‘em. And every time he would raise his rifle, when a policeman was in sight, there’d be a policeman dead. It was never learned how many policemens were killed. Some said thirty-two, some said eighteen and so forth and so on. They had different numbers that was stated in the police department or the papers.

Robert Charles was very orderly, seeming, to everybody. Never had any trouble before. But this arose him to fury. And through this killin’, it started the great New Orleans Riot. People, innocent people of all kinds, were killed.

Robert Charles lived in a little bitty small shack-like. There was another one, right next to his — I would say, twin houses. It was stated from time to time that this building was burned down in order to get Robert Charles out. But I can assure you, I was there when it all happened, and I was there when it all stopped. There was no burning, but I think it was smoked, in order to get this gentleman out.

After the riot, there has never been anything of authenticity where Robert Charles had been captured. It was learned, later years, that he’d gotten sick, or something happened to him, and he was supposed to have confessed that he was the Robert Charles. He also had a friend with him at that time that wanted to betray him. I think this man were killed. In fact, I’m sure that he was. And that was the end of Robert Charles.

They had a song out on Robert Charles, like many other songs and like many other, er, bad men that always had some kind of a song and somebody originated it on ‘em. But this song was squashed very easily by the department. And not only by the department, by any of the surrounding people that ever heard the song. Due to the fact that it was a trouble breeder and it never did get very far. I used to know the song, but I found it was best for me to forget it. And that I did, in order to go along with the world on the peaceful side.

You can’t remember any of it? Not the word or not one line or anything?

Well, I don’t remember the music at all.

How’d the words go?

Well, there’s a few words that stated Robert Charles was a paper man that sold papers at a market — that wouldn’t be the words exactly — and that he had some trouble with his wife. And the policeman wouldn’t get him — let him get his hat. And on this he broke away from the officer and shot this gentleman. And that started a riot because, of course, if you shoot one officer, it’s no more than right that another officer’d come to take his place.

1646 B

a

1646 B

b

Robert Charles’ story — sp
Game Kid Blues — v/p

c

Robert Charles story
Game Kid’s Blues

d

ROBERT CHARLES. concl. “All for the trouble of Robert Charles”
THE GAME KID and his blues

e

Circle jm-36 (excerpt)
Circle jm-51 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: GAME KID BLUES, begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Story of the New Orleans Riot, continued

Plays chords softly as he speaks

So, the song was quelled, as I ‘fore stated. And, of course, I’m a little bit ahead of my time before the song came out. After the killing that first . . . day — which I believe was on Sunday — the next day, the riots broke out after the newspapers was fullen, er, was filled with the killing of the policeman.

This man also killed a policeman that was gazin’ at another brother officer that was dying when a priest was making his rites, and looking over the priest’s shoulders. And he raised his rifle and shot the officer, supposedly right between the eyes. And it didn’t harm the priest.

Men were beat up on streetcars, white and coloured. Any place you seen a white man seen a coloured man there was a fight. Or a coloured man seen a white man, there was a fight. All for the trouble of Robert Charles. The streetcars had to stop. Transportation had absolutely quit.

Abe Baldwin was a big prominent factor in New Orleans at the time. Abe Baldwin, I believe is a great ammunition dealer considered one of the biggest in, in the world. He also supposed to be connected, as I understand, with the big locomotive companies. And he issued a statement that if they didn’t quit killin’ the coloured people, that he would all arm ‘em. He’d arm all of them in order to let ‘em fight back for their rights. And through this, I believe was, er, came a halt of the Robert Charles riot.

Well, were . . . were the white men made so angry that they just started killing the . . . killing the coloured people off?  Is that what happened?

I believe so. I believe so. And of course, vice versa.

[both laugh]

Of course, I can’t see any reason for, for these things, anyway. Arguments with you and I, I don’t see why anybody else should harm you, or harm me for it.

Well . . .

At that time we had a lot of great blues players around. For an instant, we had one of the famous ones at that time — nothing but blues — named Game Kid. Game Kid was one of the favourites in the Garden District, work right, right in the section where the Robert Charles riot began. Here’s one of the blues he played.

Game Kid Blues [begun]

Play it, Game . . .

     Could sit right here and think a thousand miles away,
     I could sit right here, think a thousand miles away,
     Since I had the blues, cannot remember the day.

1647 A

a

1647 A

b

Monologue on Game Kid and Buddy Carter — sp/p

c

Jelly Roll’s Story (7)
Blues concl’d.

d

I. “GAME KID WOULDN’T WORK.”
II. BUDDY CARTER (“Remember that bass?”)

e

Circle jm-52 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: GAME KID BLUES, concluded (excerpt)
Rounder CD 1091 as: BUDDY CARTER RAG (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Game Kid Blues

Game Kid Blues [concluded]

Plays chords softly as he speaks


Game Kid wouldn’t work. He’s a man that really wouldn’t work, just as ragged as a pet pig, a big smile on his face, kind of nice looking, sort of brown-skinned fellow, until you got to his lips — nice and fat and greasy lips. He just played the piano all day long after he’d get up. And he’d go around from one girl’s house to another — what they call the goodtime houses — not for any financial purposes at all, just to have a lot of fun — and rush the can all day long.

That’s when you could get a can of beer for ten cents. And, of course, you got the little half pint of whisky for twenty-five cents. All you had to do was go in. But that’s — I don’t mean the piano player, it didn’t cost him nothing, see — just go in, rush a can of beer right quick. And after your can of beer, maybe at the same time, you might say, er, “Well, bring, er, a half a pint of whisky.” That’d cost you thirty-five cents.

Well, you see, a real big sport would go in, and he’d rush about ten cans right straight and get about a quart of whisky, and the whole doggone thing wouldn’t cost him over two dollars and he was a big sport, and he had all the evening there and Game Kid would be playin’ there and just swillin’ all the lush in the world, right there.


[laughs]

Game Kid was a hound I’m telling you. He’s a good blues player. One of the best there was in the section.

Play us another one . . .

But, of course, we had another one. Er, you shall get another one, see. We had another one that, er, was a very good blues player, too.

[recording paused]

[inaudible comments]

We had another one that was a very good player. And Buddy Carter, of course, he played blues, as well as, er, he did some of these hot, honky tonk numbers, such as, these numbers like this:

Buddy Carter Rag

Recognize that bass?

Old Buddy Carter really did play those kind of stomps and things. They call ‘em stomps now, but he could play ‘em at all times. That was when I was a little bit of a fellow there. I guess times have changed considerable.

1647 B

a

1647 B

b

Monologue on New Orleans death customs and food — sp/p

c

N.O. Funeral

d

NEW ORLEANS FUNERAL, Part 1 (“We specialized in spirituals”)

e

Circle jm-14

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: STEAL AWAY and NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: New Orleans Funerals

Plays chords softly as he speaks

In New Orleans, why, we’d often wonder where a dead person was located. ‘Cause anytime we had somebody that was dead, we know we had plenty of good food that night — plenty of ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, with mustard slapped all over the bread.

Those days I belonged to a quartet. And we, of course, we specialized in spirituals for the purpose of finding somebody that was dead.

[laughs]

And we could sing ‘em too, I’m telling you. The minute we’d walk in — of course we’d have our correct invitation — and that would be right to the kitchen where all the food was.

Of course, the dead man or the dead woman would always be laid out in the front. And they’d be by theirselves most all the time — they was dead and there was no other reason to be where there was living people.

How about one of those spirituals, Jelly, that you used to sing?

Well, er, I guess one of those spirituals, I guess, er, kind of sound good. Let me see.

     Steal away, steal away,
     Steal away home to Jesus.
     Steal away, steal away,
     Steal away home to my Lord.


And one of our favourite numbers was this one:

     Nearer, my God to Thee,
     Nearer to Thee,
 [inaudible comments]
     There’s where my heart should be,
     Nearer to Thee.

But you’d be thinking about that ham, wouldn’t you?

I’d think about the ham.

     Oh, Nearer, my God to Thee,

We’d be sad, too. Terribly sad.

     Nearer Thinking about the whisky coming up. to Thee.

Plenty of whisky in the flask and everything. The boys’d bring it there.

     Nearer, my God, to Thee,

That would be some of the harmony we’d use.

     Nearer to Thee.

Plays chords softly as he speaks

The boys had some beautiful harmony they sang. And, of course, we got together and made all kinds of crazy ideas of the harmony, which made it beautiful and made it impossible for anybody to jump in and sing.

Mmm.

I tell you, we had such beautiful numbers to sing at all times. Of course, now, when the dead man would be there, he wouldn’t hear anything that we would be singing at all — nothing.

And, of course, we’d all go right on back to the kitchen and get our cheese sandwiches and ham sandwiches, all slapped over with mustard, and some whisky and cans of beer, sometimes. And, sometimes, if it was the man dead, a lot of times the lady would be glad — y’know, the wife to the husband — would be glad that he’s gone. And she would, of course — she’d be having a wonderful time, also.

1648 A

a

1648 A

b

Monologue on New Orleans funeral customs and the beginnings of jazz — v/sp/p

c

Jelly Roll (8)
Funeral cont’d

d

NEW ORLEANS FUNERAL, Part 2 (“Flee as a bird to the mountain”)

e

Circle jm-15

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: FLEE AS A BIRD TO THE MOUNTAIN (excerpt)
Rounder CD 1091 as: OH! DIDN’T HE RAMBLE, begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Funeral Marches

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Of course, everybody in the city of New Orleans was always organization-minded, which, I guess, the world knows. And, a, a dead man always belonged to several organizations, such as clubs, and, er, we’ll say, secret order, and those . . . so forth and so on. And every time one died, why, nine out of ten, there was always a big band turned out, when the day that he was supposed to be buried — never buried at night, always in the day. And, of course, a lot of times right in the heart of the city, the burial would take place.

Well, at, at . . . when the band would start, why, we’d know that the man was fixing to be buried. So, you could hear the band come up the street, before they would get to the, er, to the place where the gentleman was to be taken in for his last rites. And they would play different dead marches. And on leaving, this would be the march they would usually start to playing, “Flee is the Bird to the Mountain.”


Flee as a Bird to the Mountain

When they would enter the graveyard, some of ‘em call ‘em ceme . . . cem . . . cemeteries, and so forth and so on. Very seldom they would bury ‘em in the deep. They would never bury ‘em in the mud. They’d always bury ‘em in a vault. And they’d leave the graveyard, as they call it, while the band would get ready to strike up. They’d have a second line behind ‘em, well, maybe a couple of blocks long, with broomsticks, baseball bats, and all forms of ammunition, we’d call it, to combat some of their foe when they come to the, to the dividing line. And of course they’d start. The band would get started. They’d hear the drums.

[imitation of drum roll on piano]

Oh, Didn’t He Ramble [begun]

1648 B

a

1648 B

b

Monologue on New Orleans funeral customs and the beginnings of jazz — v/sp/p
Tiger Rag— v/sp/p

c

Tiger Rag from Quadrille

d

NEW ORLEANS FUNERAL, Part 3 (“Oh, didn’t he ramble”)
TIGER RAG (Original quadrille)

e

Circle jm-16 (excerpt)
Circle jm-1 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: OH! DIDN’T HE RAMBLE, concluded (excerpt)
Rounder CD 1091 as: TIGER RAG: THE QUADRILLE, begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Oh! Didn’t He Ramble

Oh, Didn’t He Ramble [concluded]

     Didn’t he ramble, he rambled,
     Rambled all around, in and out the town,
     Didn’t he ramble, ramble,
     Rambled till the butchers cut him down.


The band would start playing.

     Didn’t he ramble, ramble,
     Rambled all around, in and out the town,
     Oh, didn’t he ramble, ramble,
     Rambled till the butchers cut him down.


That would be the last of the dead man, he’s gone. And everybody came back home and they believed truly to stick right close to the Bible. That means rejoice at the death and cry at the birth. New Orleans sticks close to the — to the Scripture.

What would happen on the way home, though, with those baseball bats?

Plays chords softly as he speaks

Well, on the way home, everything was sad when they’d be playing the dead march. There would be no fights, no trouble. But on the way back, they had boundary lines. The boys had knives, baseball bats, pickaxes, shovel handles, axe handles — everything in the form that they was supposed to try to win a battle. When they got to a, a dividing line, which was not supposed to be their district, they’d better not cross. If they do, they would be beaten up. And sometimes they were beaten up so bad that they had to go into the hospital. That’s the way it always ended in New Orleans.

Now the boys from then on — the band would always figure on a big night, because they had some money. It wasn’t very much, ‘cause the band men didn’t make very much in New Orleans. The only musicians that made real money was the piano players. The other fellows, they — a lot of times, they’d work for a dollar a night. Maybe a funeral pr . . . procession like that would, would maybe be two dollars or two dollars and a half. So they had to make the best of it that way. So that was always the end of a perfect death.


[clears throat]

It must . . .


[recording paused]

Er, jazz started in New Orleans. And this, er, “Tiger Rag” happened to be transformed from an old quadrille that was in many different tempos. And I’ll, no doubt, give you an idea how it went. This was the introduction, meaning that everyone was supposed to get their partners.

Tiger Rag  [introduction]

“Get your partners, everybody, get your partners.” And people would be rushing around the hall getting their partners. It maybe — have maybe five minutes lapsed between that time — and, of course, they’d start it over again and that was the first part of it.

Tiger Rag  [introduction repeated]

And the next strain would be a waltz strain, I believe.

Tiger Rag  [waltz strain]

That would be the waltz strain.

1649 A

a

1649 A

b

Monologue on beginnings of jazz — v/sp/p

c

(A) Tiger Rag

d

I. TIGER RAG

e

Circle jm-1 (excerpt)
Circle jm-2 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: TIGER RAG: THE QUADRILLE, concluded
Rounder CD 1091 as: TIGER RAG, begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Tiger Rag, third, fourth, and fifth strains

Also, they’d have another strain that comes right below, er, right beside it.

Tiger Rag  [third strain]

The mazooka time.

Of course, that was that, er, third strain. And, of course, they had another strain. And, er, that was in a different tempo.


Tiger Rag  [fourth strain]

What kind of a time . . .

That’s a two-four time.

‘Course they had another one.

That makes five.

Yeah.

Tiger Rag  [fifth strain]

I will show you how it was transformed. It happened to be transformed by your performer at this particular time. “Tiger Rag” for your approval.

Who named it the “Tiger Rag”?

I also named it. Came from the way that I played it by making the, er, “tiger” on my elbow. And I also named it. A, a person said once, “It sounds like a tiger hollerin’.” I said, “Fine.” To myself, I said “That’s the name.” So I’ll play it for you.

Tiger Rag  [transformation begun]

1649 B

a

1649 B

b

Monologue on beginnings of jazz — v/sp/p

c

(B) Tiger Rag

d

II. PANAMA

e

Circle jm-2 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: TIGER RAG, concluded
Rounder CD 1091 as: PANAMA, incomplete (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Tiger Rag / Panama

Tiger Rag  [transformation continued]

Hold that tiger.

That was many years before the Dixieland had ever started, when I played the “Tiger Rag.” Of course, we named it “Tiger Rag,” but we had a lot of other numbers around there that was supposed to be good. For an instance, er, we’ll say “That’s-a Plenty.” “That’s-a Plenty,” er, no, we won’t say that, we’ll say “Panama.” That was a very good hot number. And we played it pretty good around there.


Panama

1650 A

a

1650 A

b

Monologue on origins of jazz and styles of playing — sp/p

c

Jelly Roll (10)
Fast rag playing in the pre-Jelly-Roll-style
Riffs, harmony, the origins of jazz

d

DISCOURSE ON JAZZ, Part 1 Tempo, melody and riffs

e

Circle jm-17

f

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: The Right Tempo is the Accurate Tempo

Er, Jelly, you were down in New Orleans, er, in the early part of the twentieth century, and all the boys were playing this fast ragtime music. Show us how they used to play, getting faster and faster.

Okay.

Fast ragtime [increasing in tempo]

It was gettin’ too fast then . . .

[laughs]

Mmm, everybody had their own style of playing. You had yours, and Tony Jackson had his, and all the rest of them had theirs.

Oh, yes, all of ‘em had. Everybody had a different style. Of course, there, there was some more accurate than others. Of course, that style that I just got through playing was the style of the ones that couldn’t play it very well. They’d have an inspiration they would be doing better then continue increasing the tempo.

And, er, what did you decide to do about that?

Well, I decided that that was a mistake. And I believe it was a mistake, because everybody grabbed the style. I thought that the accurate tempo would be the right tempo suited for any tune, regardless to — any tempo that you would set, fast or slow, you should end it up, especially if it was meant for a dance tune.

So that was the idea that I decided on. But I find that the slow tunes did more in the development of jazz, that is, the medium slow tunes, than any other thing. Due to the fact that you would always have time to hit a note twice, when ordinarily you would only hit it once. And that give it a very good flavour.

Show us how you . . . used to play when you were developing . . .

Plays

Tell us about your theory of harmony in jazz, Jelly.

Well, er, of course, my theory is to never discard the melody. Always have the melody going [plays harmony chords] some kind of a way. And, of course, your background would always be with perfect harmony. With what is known today as riffs, meaning figures, musically speaking, as figures.

Show us a riff.

Demonstrates a riff

That would be a riff against a melody. For an instant we’d say the melody’s this . . .

[inaudible comments]

Plays melody with riff

That’s what’s called a riff. Of course, a riff is something that gives, er, any orchestra a great background. And the i . . . the main idea of playing jazz — there’s no jazz piano player can ever really play jazz unless they try to get, er, to give the imitation of a band.

1650 B

a

1650 B

b

Monologue on origins of jazz and styles of playing — sp/p

c

B2 Kansas City Stomp (B faulty recording due to failing batteries)

d

DISCOURSE ON JAZZ, Part 2 Discords and false harmony
KANSAS CITY STOMP, Part 1

e

Circle jm-18

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: KANSAS CITY STOMP, begun (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Jazz Discords and Story of the Kansas City Stomp

Now show us the way that some piano players played, play jazz with the discords.

Okay. Well, of course, they do, er, a lot of that.

Plays discordant jazz

That’s the way that some of them play with the discords there. They don’t regard, er, the harmony, or the rules, or the system of the music at all. They just play anything. The main idea is to keep the bass going. That is their thought. By keeping the bass going, it gives ‘em a sort of, of a set rhythm. And by giving ‘em a set rhythm, they imagine they’re doing the right thing, which is wrong.

There’s only a very few jazz pianists, if there’s any, that as I state today. Er, so far as the present time, er, musicians as pianists, I don’t know of but only one that have a tendency to be on the right track, and that’s Bob Zurke of Bob Crosby Band. Far as the rest of ‘em, all I can see is ragtime pianists in a very fine form. Anything else, sir?

Er, play us one of your early pieces, the “Kansas City Stomp.”

Like the “Kansas City Stomp?”

Where does that start?

Er, well, the “Kansas City Stomp” didn’t come from Kansas City. I wrote the “Kansas City Stomp” down on the, on the, the borders of Mexico. Right near the American border, er, from near California side, in a little place called Tijuana, Mexico.

Er, the tune was named after a saloon, that was ran by a friend of mine, or run, rather,
[laughs] by a friend of mine, er, by the name of Jack Jones. A very unfortunate gentleman, although he was worth a million dollars. And he asked me to name the tune after his saloon, er, and his saloon was named the Kansas City Bar. So I named it the “Kansas City Stomp.” I was . . .

Why was he unfortunate?

Well, er, unfortunately, he had some trouble and he had to go to the penitentiary for twenty years, [laughs] with all the money he had. So I’ll play the tune for him. I guess I’ll have the time on this, on this side, but I’ll do it best.

Kansas City Stomp  [fragment of beginning]

[recording paused]

Kansas City Stomp  [begun]

Note: Dead Man Blues (pages 112-113) refers to the owner of the Kansas City Bar in Tijuana, Mexico as Jack Lanes from Muskogee, Oklahoma. I have listened to Jelly Roll’s Library of Congress recordings since 1952 and have always heard the name as Jack Jones. I could find no person by the name of Jack Lanes in my search of the 1910 and 1920 census records for Oklahoma, but there was a Jack Jones (age 30, black) who was living with his wife Annabell at 612 North 20th Street on 1st January 1920. (1920 U.S. Census 1920, Oklahoma, Muskogee, 15th Precinct, 4th Ward, SD2 ED90 Sheet 6B, Lines 70-71)  [PH 2]

1651 A

a

1651 A

b

Monologue on ‘breaks’ and ‘riffs’ in jazz, on swing and on his theories of jazz — sp/p

c

Kansas City Stomp completed (faulty recording — do over)

d

DISCOURSE ON JAZZ, Part 3 Breaks and riffs
KANSAS CITY STOMP, Concl.

e

Circle jm-19 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: KANSAS CITY STOMP, concluded (excerpt)
Rounder CD 1091 as: DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Kansas City Stomp, continued

Kansas City Stomp  [concluded]

That was the “Kansas City Stomp.” You may notice that in playing jazz, the breaks are one of the most essential things that you can ever do in jazz. Without breaks and without clean breaks, without beautiful ideas in breaks, you don’t need to even think about doin’ anything else. If you can’t have a decent break, you haven’t got a jazz band, or you can’t even play jazz.

Show us a good break, Jelly.

Plays a break

Now that’s what you’d call a pretty good break. For instance, I’ll play just a little bit of a melody of somethin’ and show you.

Plays melody with break

That’s what you’d call a break . . .

Maybe I’d better play something that you can understand more. For instance, “Strutters’ Ball.”


Strutters’ Ball

I made those blakes . . . breaks kind of clean, because the fact of it is, everybody knows this tune and they know how it’s played and they’ll know where the breaks come in.

Without a break you have nothing. Even if a tune have no break in it, it is always necessary to arrange some kind of a spot to make a break. Because without a break, as I said before, you haven’t gotten jazz . . . and, er, your accurate tempos with your backgrounds of your figures, which is called riffs today. Of course that, that happens to be a musical term — riffs.

What’s the difference between a riff and a break? Aren’t they about the same thing?

Oh, no, no. There’s a difference, er, a riff is a background. A riff is what you would call a foundation, as, like you would walk on. It’s something that’s standard. And a break is something that you break. When you make the break — that means all the band break, with maybe one, two, or three instruments. It depends upon how the combination is arranged. And as you, as the band breaks, you have a set, given time, possibly two bars, to make the break.

Isn’t . . . isn’t the break what you . . . when you, when you make break, isn’t that what you mean by swinging?

No, no, that’s not what swing is. Swing don’t mean that. Swing means something like this:

Strutters’ Ball  [incomplete demonstration of swing]

1651 B

a

1651 B

b

Monologue on ‘breaks’ and ‘riffs’ in jazz, on swing and on his theories of jazz — sp/p

c

Swing — the theory and practice of jazz

d

DISCOURSE ON JAZZ, Part 4 Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm

e

Circle jm-20 (excerpt)

f

Rounder CD 1091 as: SWEET JAZZ MUSIC, (excerpt)

g

Rounder CD 1888 as: Slow Swing and “Sweet Jazz Music”

[inaudible comments from Alan Lomax and unidentified others]

Okay, I’ll . . . I’ll show you what’s a slow swing — oh, absolutely. There’s lot of people have the conception, but the conception is wrong. And, naturally, a person’s conception has got to be wrong, unless they know what they’re talking about. Er, a lot of times you may be right, but that only comes from guesswork. The fact of it is, every musician in America had the wrong understanding about, er, jazz music. Er, somehow or another it got into the dictionary, that jazz was considered a lot of blatant noise and discordant tones, that is, something that would be even harmful to the ears.

I know many times, that I would be playing against different orchestras, and I would notice some of the patrons, as they would be dancing around. They’d get near to an orchestra — of course, I wouldn’t permit mine, so I’d — I’d be a little more careful than that — they’d get near to an orchestra, and they’d hold their ears. I heard, er, a very funny fellow say it once, in a coloured dance, “If that fellow blows any louder he’ll knock my eardrums down.” Of course, you’ve got to be careful of that.

Jazz music is based on strictly music. You have the finest ideas from the greatest operas, symphonies, and overtures in jazz music. There’s nothing finer than jazz music, because it, it comes from everything of the finest class music.

Well . . . [clears throat] . . . show us what, er, this discordant type of jazz is like, Jelly.

Well it’s, er, it’s so noisy it’s impossible for me to, to prove to you, because I only have one instrument to show to you. But I guess the world is familiar with it. Even Germany don’t want it. But she don’t know why she don’t want it — because of the noise. That’s why. Italy don’t want it — because of the noise.

Jazz music is to be played sweet, soft, plenty of rhythm. When you have your plenty of rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful. To start with, you can’t make crescendos and diminuendos when one is playing triple forté. You’ve got to be able to come down in order to go up. If a glass of water is full, you can’t fill it any more. But if you have a half a glass you have an opportunity to put more water in it. And jazz music is based on the same principles.


Sweet Jazz Music [introduction]

I will play a little number now, of the slower type, to give you an idea of the, the slower type of jazz music. You can apply to any type tune, that depends on your ability for transformation.

Sweet Jazz Music

There you’ve got sweet jazz music.

What’s the name of it?

I don’t . . . I don’t have any name for it. Just a number that I . . . just thought I’d play awhile, just to give a person a good idea . . .

Sweet Jazz Music [double-time]

That’s also one of my riffs . . . what you call riffs in, er, jazz you know, in the slower tunes. I’ve seen this blundered up so many times that it’s given me the heart failure. No, I haven’t got a drum, that’s my foot, if you happen to, to think of something to say. [laughs]

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