Jelly Roll Morton, born Ferdinand Jospeh Lamothe, was a pianist and a songwriter who was one of the first major influences on jazz music in the 1920’s.
Ferdinand was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where is said to be the birthplace of jazz, to creole parents. He learned to play the piano at a young age and eventually began popular playing in bordellos, another word for brothel. It would be in these bordellos he would earn himself the name Jelly Roll, and adopting his step-father’s last name would be how he obtain the full name Jelly Roll Morton.
He lived in several major cities pursuing his music the first being Los Angelos, then Chicago where he signed a contract with Victor Talking Machine Company in 1926. Just a few years before in 1915 he published the first piece of instrumental music to sell over one million copies, it was also acknowledged as the first jazz piece ever written. It is possible that because of this he referred to himself as the founder of jazz, even though most might know him for a ragtime style of music. His music was extremely popular because instead of playing the piano in the ragtime style, on a 1,2 beat, he played with a 1,4 beat.
The peak of his career came with his band Jelly Morton’s Red-Hot Peppers. They had several hits, most of which Jelly Roll himself composed and also performed. His band was known for the New Orleans jazz style which paved the foundation for the swing, which was based on fast tempo beats and complex chord progressions.
Around 1938 Jelly Roll recorded for the Library Congress. The recordings were interview style with him explaining his early work and playing pieces from his discography. This re-sparked the public interest in him. Unfortunately, he was not able to bask in this newfound popularity for long, a few years later he fell ill, something that happened to him very often after healing from untreated stab wounds, and soon died in 1941.
Even after his death Jelly Roll was recognized and rewarded for his work, being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. His postmortem awards and accolades prove his impact on the genre of jazz was beyond its time.