Complete Morton #4 – Mamanita / Turtle Twist

Continuing the Morton this week, we lead off with one of Morton’s best “Spanish Tinge” pieces.  This was his way of describing the habanera, Tango/Caribbean-esque rhythms and left hand patterns that he considered essential to the jazz idiom.  In his Library of Congress interview, he has a very interesting explanation of why the Tinge is important to jazz, explaining how it “really changes the color from red to blue”.  You can hear it in 2 parts here and here on Spotify.  This piece, “Mamanita,” is one of two which was dedicated to Anita Gonazales, one of the two important women in Morton’s life.  Anita and Morton had a long and tempestuous romance which involved them owning a venue together at one point and Morton later leaving her in the West Coast for Chicago and New York.  Once there, he married his wife Mabel and stayed with her for many years, until he eventually in a period of ill health and destitution, moved back to California to be with Anita, who subsequently forced a deliriously ill Morton on his deathbed to bequeath everything in his will to her rather than to Mabel.  What a drama!

Anyway, the tune is very beautiful and intricate and is one of the rare Morton tunes which returns to the SECOND strain at the end of the piece, instead of staying on the third strain as he does in most of his compositions.  As a result, the third strain functions in a much more traditional “trio” vein, as an interlude rather than the focus of the song, which instead rests squarely on the very cool and tango-esque second strain.

Secondly this week, a piece David and I learned together when we first met in 2013, “Turtle Twist,” recorded in 1929 with Morton, Zutty Singleton on drums and Duke Ellington’s clarinetist Barney Bigard.  It also has a nice minor key section though of a less “Spanish” character and then opens up into a superb bluesy stomp.  One of our favorites!

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