Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Sidewalk Blues"

The Monday Morning Blues is upon us, friends!  We’re here with this month’s edition of the Jazz Me Blues feature, which means an exploration of the musically delicious point where blues & jazz intersect.

You really can’t talk about the history of jazz without talking about Jelly Roll Morton—the self-professed “inventor” of the idiom.  Jelly Roll’s claim is of course spurious; still, he was a larger than life figure—a combination of musical genius both as a composer & a performer, promoter (mainly of Jelly Roll Morton), pimp, pool shark, hustler, nightclub owner & legend both in his own time & in his own mind.  If you are interested in learning more about him, more about early jazz or turn of the 20th century New Orleans culture, or simply reading an amazing story, I highly recommend Alan Lomax’s biography (much of which is in Jelly Roll Morton’s own words) Mister Jelly Roll

Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in New Orleans in 1885 (or possibly 1884, 1889 or 1890), & didn’t become Jelly Roll Morton until he began work as a brothel piano player in his teens.  He continued to work in the fabled New Orleans red-light district known as Storyville, but toured the south with various minstrel shows (& also as a general hustler & pool shark—apparently his pools skills were considerable.)  Later in the teens he spent time in Chicago, California & Vancouver, British Columbia, always finding work in nightclubs & in vaudeville shows based on his extraordinary piano playing abilities.

He returned to Chicago in the mid 1920s & he assembled one of the most important bands of the “hot jazz” era, the Red Hot Peppers.  The personnel of this band shifted considerably over the years (& was based both in Chicago & later in New York), but among the notable musicians who joined Morton in the Red Hot Peppers were trombonist Kid Ory, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, banjoist Johnny St Cyr & drummer Baby Dodds—of course all of these musicians also played with Louis Armstrong around the same time.

Jelly Roll Morton & the Red Hot Peppers recorded a number of sides between 1926 & 1930.  The Chicago sessions of 1926-1927 are especially renowned, & today’s selection, “Sidewalk Blues,” comes from those recordings.  “Sidewalk Blues” was recorded for Victor Records on September 21, 1926 in Chicago.  According to the Doctor Jazz website, Victor based a large ad campaign around “Sidewalk Blues.”  According to the Music Trade Review in November 1926, “Upon its initial release it enjoyed an unprecedented demand for a “blues” number.”

“The Sidewalk Blues” is essentially a 12-bar blues in its bare musical bones, tho there are some interesting harmonies that complicate the basic structure.  It’s also a bit of a novelty item, with the opening dialogue & the sound effects—but then, Jelly Roll was always a showman!  

Great song here—hope you enjoy it!


  1. Ah, I'm always pleased to hear Jelly Roll Morton! Great tune, and Johnny Dodds was definitely hot on this gig.

  2. I knew a little of the history of Jelly Roll Morton, but there is much here I was not aware of. Again thanks John for widening my musical horizons.

  3. Hi Roy & Alan: First, apologies for not getting the comments moderated sooner--yesterday was a true whirlwind of activity!

    Roy: Thanks, glad you liked it! Love that clarinet.

    Alan: You are most welcome--thank you for your great support!

  4. I enjoy reading about musicians and actors, and will read about anyone who's had an interesting life, whether I like (or am even familiar with) their work or not. Thanks for the reccomendation of Jelly Roll Morton's biography. I will look for it at the library if I ever get out of hock with them! By the way, I also like the name of your blog.

  5. Hi Library Diva: Thanks so much for stopping by! Hope you are again in good graces with your library & can check out the Morton biography; I think you'd like it.


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