Termagant Tuesday: “West End Blues,” Jelly Roll Morton


February 11th was a big day in history.  Let’s review:

  • 55 AD: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus dies under mysterious circumstances.  Nero becomes emperor.  Things start to seriously suck in Rome.
  • 1531: Henry VIII becomes head of the Church in England.  WASPs in boat shoes and elbow patches come out of hiding.
  • 1812: Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry creates a new word and “gerrymanders.”  WASPs of conscience go back into hiding.
  • 1906: Pope Pius X publishes Vehementur Nos.  Reconsiders.
  • 1971: 87 countries, including these United States, sign an agreement outlawing the use of nuclear weapons on the…wait for it…sea bed.  So that’s something.
  • 1983: Ronald Reagan declares February 11 to be “Inventor’s Day,” and calls upon the American people “to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

To celebrate this last bullet especially, The Daily Tune-Up presents Mr. Jelly Roll Morton, one of the inventors of jazz (though, if you asked him, he’d say he birthed jazz all by himself, to which this blog respectfully says, “the hell you say”).  Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in New Orleans in 1890.  His composition, “Jelly Roll Blues,” published in 1915, is the first known jazz publication in American history.  He became renowned for his interpretations of other jazz songs and also for his considerable talent at the piano.   In 1935 Morton moved to Washington, D.C. where he managed a bar at 12th and U, Northwest.  That bar has had many names but my fellow Washingtonians know it as Ben’s Next Door, aka the vaguely nicer joint next to Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Morton died in 1941 in Los Angeles, California.  He was apparently such an arrogant ass throughout his life – going on and on about how he “invented jazz” – that not too many people came to his funeral.  Thankfully, his music continued to be influential, whether people liked the man or not.  So I raise a grateful glass to his memory.  As far as I’m concerned, the world could use more visionary pains-in-the-ass.


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