new orleans

Mister Jelly Roll

Must be the New Orleans trip fever, because I’m finally writing up a great book that I found at a used book store ages ago.

The book is called Mister Jelly Roll, and it’s about the famed early boogie woogie pianist Jelly Roll Morton. Morton played all over the United States in the first forty years of the 19002, but was born and raised in New Orleans.

Mister Jelly Roll cover

Alan Lomax, the author of the book, might be familiar to you for his ethnomusicology work and folklore efforts. Mister Jelly Roll is one of the many oral histories Lomax collected from famed musicians of the early 20th century.

Being an oral history, it’s all you can do to take Morton as his word. He’s a larger than life character, with a pretty strong self-pronounced claim for being the “father of jazz.”

He certainly did originate early arrangements of jazz music, and helped to popularize them all over the U.S. through a grueling tour schedule. Whether or not he is the “father of jazz,” Morton’s life story takes you through marriages, success, failure, small clubs, big band halls, racism, and impressive musical creativity.

The book is illustrated by David Stone Martin, whose strong graphic lines can be found on many jazz album covers of the day. The drawings, as well as the musical notes included in the appendix, make the book a fully engaging historical document. Recommended for music history buffs.

Want more?

Check out the original Time Magazine review of the book here (1950)

Jelly Roll videos: Hesitation Blues, Crazy Chords, and the Steamboat Stomp.

More illustration by David Stone Martin:

Mister Jelly Roll, Guide to New Orleans around 1900

Mister Jelly Roll, Guide to New Orleans around 1900

Mister Jelly Roll, illustrations by David Stone Martin

Cultural Itinerary: New Orleans

Starting a new feature over here at Scenic World! It’s called Cultural Itinerary, and will lay out my suggestions of what to read, watch and listen to before you head out on a certain trip.

First up? New Orleans, where KO and I are going this weekend!

Read it.

  1. Start with Truman Capote’s The Dog’s Bark. Don’t worry, you won’t have to read all of it (although it wouldn’t hurt if you did; it’s some of Capote’s most poignant and least indulgent writing). But his descriptions of the neighborhoods of New Orleans while he lived there as a struggling writer in the early 20th century? Luminous.
  2. NoLa evokes that intersection between magic and reality, so tucking Anne Rice’s epic Interview with a Vampire will definitely fulfill your quota of history and the supernatural. Flowery prose, but hundreds of times more stirring than that other vampire novel.
  3. Recent books about New Orleans are of course going to cover Katrina. Dave Eggers’ recent Zeitoun does a great job of showing the determination  of the city’s residents and how the government systems let them down.

See it.

  1. There’s a reason that streetcars in NoLa are tourist traps and that there’s a restaurant named Stella!: Streetcar Named Desire, the  1951 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. His Stanley and her Stella share an animalistic tension, and the city is their unholy cage. Here’s the scene that should convince you.
  2. So it’s not strictly New Orleans proper, but the HBO series True Blood is a swampy, sexy, bloody mess of a show. Seasons 1 and 2 definitely outshone Season 3 (way too gory for me), but the half-naked mix of vampires, werewolves, and human bayou dwellers makes it a delicious summertime addiction.
  3. From its opening scene, a black and white tour of New Orleans homes over Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law is an awesome, quirky New Orleans tale starring Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni in his first American starring role. One of my favorite movies.

Hear it.

  1. I still haven’t caught up on the show, but HBO’s Treme has a great soundtrack with 19 songs reflecting the city’s musical history of funk, country, Cajun and  jazz music. Great primer to the New Orleans’ sound.
  2. Dr. John is one of the city’s most famed musicians, and his Best Of shows his gumbo mix of psychedelia and traditional piano blues.
  3. Preservation Hall is one of the city’s best known jazz halls, and recently a great compilation album was put out to preserve the hall (hah!). Great guest stars and an amazing backing band.