This week’s Jelly Roll Morton selections (complete project info here) start off with the other of his “modern” tunes, “Freakish,” a companion to “Pep” that we did in Week 7. These two pieces were first recorded as piano solos in 1929 (in the same session as Frances) and have similar use of some colorful and unusually dissonant (for Morton) chords moving in parallel motion, a nod to some of the progressive jazz of the time, and perhaps even a bit towards some of the sounds used by classical composers of note in the early 20th century. After starting out in this more exploratory manner, “Freakish” moves through a second section with some very nice rhythmically displaced breaks and hits into a typical Mortonian third strain with a nice riff-based melody (along the lines of other of his tunes with melodies dominated by repeated two bar phrases such as “King Porter Stomp.” We’ve based this arrangement on the solo version Morton recorded in 1938 at the Library of Congress, which is taken at a really nice medium tempo and has a built in “clarinet chorus” in the 3rd strain, as well as some of Jelly’s fantastic right hand counterpoint which I’ve attempted to reproduce a bit throughout:
Secondly today is “Sweet Peter,” one of Morton’s best compositions in the typical verse-chorus song form (as opposed to his many tunes in a 3 part “stomp” format based more on ragtime structures). This was also recorded originally in 1929 by a version of the Red Hot Peppers featuring some great New Orleans musicians working in New York at the time including Albert Nicholas on clarinet, Pops Foster on bass and Paul Barbarin on drums. He later reprised it for a solo performance during the Library of Congress interview. The verse is really catchy, and as James Dapogny pointed out in his exhaustive book of Morton transcriptions, the chorus is very similar to the standard “All of Me”, which was written two years after this was recorded!
More on the way as we work our way through all 107 Morton tunes…including some bass saxophone coming up in a few weeks!!