Today we tackle one of the most interesting pieces in Morton’s output, the enigmatic “GanJam”, probably his last composition. Written between 1939-41, it was one of a number of big band pieces which Jelly wrote right at the end of his life as he was trying to revitalize his career by entering the world of contemporary big band arranging of that era. A number of these large ensemble scores were found in the collection of the New Orleans enthusiast William Russell, who donated a huge amount of memorabilia to the Historic New Orleans Collection upon his death, and this one made it into commercial publication (there are still several others in there that have been performed but the scores aren’t publicly available to us). Anyway, this is a complete outlier in Morton’s repertoire, a wacky and extremely uncharacteristic piece drawing on eastern scales, bizarre harmonic movement, “jungle” motifs such as those frequently used by Ellington and Tiny Parham, among others, and an almost classical form which builds climactically throughout the piece, section after section. It was written for a full big band so we weren’t sure at first if we could pull it off, but with a bit of doubling by David we’ve gotten all the themes in there, and taken some small liberties of style to bring you our version!
Phew! And for contrast, a very simple stomp, clearly one of those “oh let’s just sketch it out at the recording session” type of things. Interestingly I have the 78 of this one on the B-side of Ellington’s “Jungle Nights in Harlem”, so there’s a slight connection to GanJam, however tenuous!