Today, October 20, we arrive at Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe's 130th birthday. More famously known as Jelly Roll Morton, he was one of the kings of 20th-century music and is forever hailed as a true innovator in the world of modern jazz. He had proficiency with the piano even before his teenage years and was a local favorite at bars and bordellos that had a piano for him to play. Born into a time before the phrase "jazz" was formalized, Morton was instrumental in giving the nascent genre its first scripted works.
Often remembered for his confident aura that bordered on vanity at times, he referred to himself more than once as the sole inventor of jazz itself. Obviously, his claim could not be entirely true, what with jazz having such a swirl of different people, emotions, and personalities at its core. That said, his influence is difficult to understate when remaining truthful, and he remains a legend in his craft to this day. Many of his songs are iconic in the genre and are symbolic of the structure and feeling of jazz as a whole, especially the New Orleans subsect. "Jelly Roll Blues" is one of the seminal works of early jazz, and it even blended in unexpected spice from tango-style rhythms as a result of Morton's exceedingly unique musical identity.
By his maturity, he was the leader of the Red Hot Peppers and a celebrated musician in his own right. Their musical style was New Orleans-inspired, and their spirited performances enjoyed a great deal of success. Eventually, though, Morton fell out of stardom, as his New Orleanian style was, while much-loved, eventually left behind in the public eye by newer forms of jazz. Though it may not have been all the rage by the time of his death in 1941, we live now in a time where all music can be equally appreciated, and fewer genres suffer from being considered "old-fashioned" than ever. So, we look back fondly on one of the genre's most iconic envelope-pushers fondly and in admiration of his charisma. Here's to you, Jelly Roll Morton, and Happy 130th!