Well we’re chugging along now with week number 9 of the complete compositions of Jelly Roll Morton (full explanation), and before the tunes I’d like to plug a duo gig David and I are doing at the Green Note in Camden this Saturday, the 10th of March, playing all Morton material. Tickets are here!
OK, this week we’re starting off with a very interesting one, “Frances” (also known as “Fat Frances” (!?)), which was one of the four solo sides Morton recorded in 1929. These are an interesting anomaly in his solo output as they seem to be a bit poorly executed and not as well thought out as many of his solo performances. Many people have hypothesized about this, with the general wisdom being that Morton was busy working in band contexts around this time without much solo practice or performing. I also wonder if his ego may have played a role as the 1926-29 period was when he achieved his greatest public fame and may have shown up at the studio assuming everything he did would be great because he was Jelly Roll Morton. Or, perhaps Victor Records simply asked him to make some solo records without adequate preparation time. At any rate, “Frances” and “Pep” are the more thought-out of the four pieces he recorded that day, and despite the slightly sloppy performance, “Frances” is also interesting for its unusual form of returning to the SECOND strain after the 3rd. Usually Morton plays the first strain, then the second, which is often contrasting and more mellow feel, then the third, which builds at great length to a satisfying conclusion. In this case, he interestingly uses a much brighter mood than usual in the 2nd strain and returns to it after the third, giving it an unusual shape only seen in two of his other pieces, “Mamanita” and “Seattle Hunch.”
Secondly we have the very mellow “Courthouse Bump,” which like other “bump” tunes seems to be at a medium-slow tempo with some bluesy influences and pedal tones perhaps characteristic of the sub-sub-genre. This was, incidentally, recorded the day after “Frances” and features a larger band that Morton worked with around that time. This was around the period when Morton’s band performances began to move away from the high point of the 1926-7 Chicago recordings, as a combination of trends in the music industry, his move to New York, and increasingly tenuous relations with fellow musicians due to his ego began to take their toll on his groups. Nonetheless this is a well thought-out tune with the typical Morton contrasting sections and a particularly sentimental feel which David brought out his mid-1920s bass clarinet for once again:
Stay tuned as always to the YouTube Channel, we’re recording a bunch more in March with some special guests as well…