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Jelly Roll Morton Complete Library of Congress Recordings

8. “Maple Leaf Rag” (recorded summer 1938; available on The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax, Rounder, 2005)

You could write a book—and I will—traversing the large-set recordings that the musical archivist and historian Alan Lomax made for the Library of Congress with the likes of Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, but perhaps none of those sessions and relationships measure up to the copious storehouse of songs that Morton performed for Lomax, of which there are 128. Lomax wasn’t exactly scared of Morton, but you hear the awe in his voice as the men converse; or, I should say, as Morton holds court. Morton’s speaking voice is its own fascinating instrument. He could sing in a talking blues, he could talk in bluesy sing-song. He could also show you, as he does on these two contrasting performances of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” how this music used to sound, and how Morton made it sound. “I changed every style,” he says, before pulling a Dizzy Dean and offering up a proof.