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Jelly Roll Morton Workshop Opens Alan Lomax Symposium

The Library of Congress will host a workshop on pianist Jelly Roll Morton tomorrow at noon in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Coolidge Auditorium, where Morton recorded his famous repertoire nearly 70 years ago.

The event kicks off a three-day symposium on the life and work of ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, who led efforts to record, document and archive 20th century American folk music, including the works of Morton, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy.

The symposium, The Lomax Legacy: Folklore in a Globalizing Century, is being presented by the American Folklife Center and the Association for Cultural Equity, which was started by Lomax and is currently directed by his daughter, Anna Lomax Wood.

The workshop on Morton is particularly significant, because Rounder Records released Jelly Roll Morton’s The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax last year. The eight-CD box set garnered two Grammy nominations and was named one of the year’s top reissues by JazzTimes writers.

The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax includes 1938 recordings Lomax made of Morton playing a repertoire of jazz, blues and folk songs in the Coolidge Auditorium. The box set also features interviews with Morton in which he describes the origins of the music he plays. It’s one of the first documented oral records of the history of jazz.

Alan Lomax is credited with being the leading figure in the preservation and documentation of American folk traditions. Throughout his life, he traveled the country with an audio recorder and notebook, documenting the sounds and stories of American life. Lomax was born in 1915 and followed his father, folklorist John A. Lomax, into the field of ethnomusicology. Between 1932 and 1942, the two Lomaxes were commissioned by the Library of Congress to travel to the South to record African-American folk music traditions. They recorded everyone from Muddy Waters to Charley Patton to Leadbelly. The younger Lomax went on to document folk traditions throughout the world. He wrote several acclaimed books, including 1993’s The Land Where the Blues Began.

The three-day Lomax symposium will feature performances, panel discussions and presentations by scholars from across the globe.

Jazz expert John Szwed and pianist Dave Burrell are scheduled to present tomorrow’s workshop on Jelly Roll Morton. Szwed has written biographies of Sun Ra and Miles Davis and is currently writing a biography of Lomax. He also penned the liner notes to the Morton box set, which earned him a Grammy nomination. Burrell recorded a 1991 tribute to Morton on Gazell Records called Jelly Roll Joys. He has played with Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and David Murray.

Tomorrow night, the Library of Congress is hosting a screening of the documentary ‘Oss ‘Oss, Wee ‘Oss – May Day in Padstow and Padstow 50 Years Later, which was directed by Lomax. The film documents the famous Padstow, England celebration involving English folk music, dance and costume. It’s a tradition that has been closely guarded and rarely filmed, even though it continues to this day.

On Thursday, there are a series of panel discussions on Lomax’ legacy and the challenges to respectfully documenting folk arts in the 21st century.

Thursday night is highlighted by two unique concerts. The National Chorus of the Church of God and Saints of Christ will be performing a cappella music in the jubilee style, which Lomax documented in 1960 in Williamsburg, Va. Ethnomusicologist Judith Cohen will be singing and playing traditional Judeo-Spanish, Sephardic music.

The three-day symposium concludes Friday with Anna Lomax Wood’s closing remarks, entitled Remembering Alan.

For more information, visit the symposium Web site.

Originally Published