... at least that's what he and his sisters claimed. No one really knows for sure. (A baptismal certificate issued in 1894 lists his date of birth as October 20, 1890; His World War I draft registration card showed September 13, 1884 but his California death certificate listed his birth as September 20, 1889.)
Here's what IS known: Morton was born into a Creole community in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana to Louise Monette. His given name was Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe. He took the name "Morton" by Anglicizing the name of his stepfather, Mouton.
At the age of fourteen, he began working as a piano player in a brothel (or as it was referred to then, a sporting house.) While working there, he was living with his religious church-going great-grandmother and had her convinced that he worked in a barrel factory.Morton's grandmother eventually found out that he was playing jazz in a local brothel, and subsequently kicked him out of her house.
Press links below to hear ACTUAL Jelly Roll Morton performances:
-- "Dr Jazz"
Around 1904, Morton started wandering the American South, working with minstrel shows, gambling and composing. His works "Jelly Roll Blues," "New Orleans Blues," "Frog-I-More Rag," "Animule Dance," and "King Porter Stomp" were composed during this period. He got to Chicago in 1910 and New York City in 1911, where future stride greats James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith caught his act, years before the blues were widely played in the North.
|Jelly with his band in 1928|
Widely recognized as a pivotal figure in early jazz, his composition "Jelly Roll Blues" was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. Morton is also notable for naming and popularizing the "Spanish tinge" of exotic rhythms and penning such standards as "Wolverine Blues," "Black Bottom Stomp," and "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden's Say," the latter a tribute to the pioneering New Orleans trumpeter.
Known for his arrogance and self-promotion as much as for his musical talents, Morton claimed to have invented jazz outright in 1902—which many musicians and critics dispute and take exception to his boast.
Morton's piano style was formed from early secondary ragtime and "shout," which also evolved separately into the New York school of stride piano. Morton's playing, however, was also close to barrelhouse, which produced boogie woogie.