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Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

The recordings that Jelly Roll Morton made for the Library of Congress in 1938 have long been recognized as a unique documentation of the life, times, opinions, pretensions and music of the first great jazz composer. It seems amazing that this release marks the first time that this material has been presented in its entirety, and Rounder has certainly done quite a packaging job. Seven CDs devoted to the interviews are supplemented by another disc featuring reminiscences by other New Orleans musicians, like Johnny St. Cyr and Alphonse Picou. Also included is Mister Jelly Roll, the biography written by LOC folklorist Alan Lomax based in large part on these interviews, as well as a handsome 80-page oversized booklet.

To say that Morton was a complex character hardly scratches the surface. His claim to have invented jazz probably hindered the campaign for recognition that, from his point of view, was the prime motivation for these recordings; his insistence on maligning virtually every non-New Orleans jazz musician certainly didn’t help. It takes a fair bit of knowledge of early jazz history to sift through Morton’s account of things, and unfortunately the new notes by John Szwed are a disappointment, in this and other regards.

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