Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow | The Complete Morton Project

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The Complete Morton Project

by Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow

Neglected masterpieces by the first great jazz composer Jelly Roll Morton.
Genre: Jazz: Piano Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Shreveport Stomp
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:22 $0.99
2. Croc-O-Dile Cradle
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:32 $0.99
3. Gan Jam
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
5:23 $0.99
4. State and Madison
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:27 $0.99
5. Finger Buster
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:03 $0.99
6. Courthouse Bump
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:06 $0.99
7. Stratford Hunch
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:35 $0.99
8. Mamanita
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
4:15 $0.99
9. Good Old New York
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
2:32 $0.99
10. Freakish
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:57 $0.99
11. I Hate a Man Like You
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
2:46 $0.99
12. Jungle Blues
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
4:29 $0.99
13. Black Bottom Stomp
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:04 $0.99
14. Mr. Jelly Lord
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
3:58 $0.99
15. My Home Is in a Southern Town
Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow
2:46 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

In the early days of the 20th century, a unique cocktail of musical and social influences was brewing in New Orleans. Americans, African-Americans, Creoles, Europeans, and people from the Caribbean and South America lived and worked together and their respective musical traditions were allowed to interact to an unprecedented degree. Out of this mixture grew the roots of jazz music, itself the predecessor of much of American popular music throughout the century. Among the many early practitioners of this music, only one musician was confident enough to proclaim himself the single-handed “inventor of jazz”, the great Creole pianist and composer Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, better known as Jelly Roll Morton. A complex person whose arrogance partially developed as a defense mechanism after being thrown out of his classy French Creole household at a young age having been discovered playing piano in brothels, Morton’s notorious personality has been well documented and has threatened at times to overshadow his tremendous skills as both a pianist and composer. While his life story is an compelling tale of a true American original, this project came into being out of a desire to dig deeper into Jelly’s music and shed a new perspective on his diverse and outstanding output as perhaps the first true jazz composer.
The role of the composer in the context of jazz, a musical form predicated upon improvisation, is a complex one, and much ink has been spilled in attempting to define the role, purpose, and limits of the jazz composer. Early jazz evolved from myriad sources of written and improvised music, but the majority of its early practitioners in the 1910s and even into the early 1920s were not themselves prolific or particularly well-versed composers in the Western Classical sense. Interestingly, many early jazz musicians and bands based their unwritten arrangements and improvisations on ragtime, itself a highly arranged and notated style typified by the compositions of the great Scott Joplin. The early jazz groups also drew on more vernacular sounds such as the blues and other folk and ethnic music present in New Orleans at the time. While there are many examples of these early bands creating their own tunes as well as playing rags and popular tunes in a jazz style, the compositions and arrangements of bands such as King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and Celestin’s Tuxedo Band were not written down in detail. As the 1920s progressed and the jazz scene shifted northwards to Chicago and later New York, written arrangements and published compositions rapidly became very important facets of the quickly evolving jazz style, particularly with the rise in popularity of larger groups such as Duke Ellington’s famous Cotton Club Orchestra, leading into the very highly arranged Big Band era in the 1930s and 40s.

Jelly Roll Morton’s importance as a composer fits right into the very beginning of this evolution from vernacular music to highly arranged large group swing. Although his claims to be the single-handed inventor of jazz are obviously hyperbolic, a much clearer case can be made for his status as the first great jazz composer. Drawing together classical musical training, French Opera, the blues, ragtime, and his beloved ‘Spanish Tinge’ rhythms from Spain via the Caribbean and South America, Morton’s early compositions such as The Pearls, King Porter Stomp, and The Crave show an advanced compositional mind at work, creating unique and complex forms, sweeping melodies and potent counterpoint and, most importantly, allowing for improvisation and variation in a true jazz style, all before 1920! Most of these early tunes which formed the backbone of Jelly’s repertoire throughout his life were first recorded as piano solos in 1923-25, and in 1926-27 another side of his skill with the pen came to the fore in his masterful series of sides with the Red Hot Peppers. Although on the surface these records seem to be an example of New Orleans-style loose small group jazz, the superb intricacy of the arrangements and textures and subsequent testimony by the band members demonstrate the true level of nearly dictatorial arrangement from Morton, who famously instructed his musicians to “play the dots” on the page while placing his pistol on the piano during rehearsal. As his career progressed and his fame grew, his compositional output did become a bit more varied in quality, with quick pick-up bands playing much simpler tunes on many of his late 1920s records, but then near the end of his life, after many years toiling in obscurity and destitution, he re-emerged with some beautiful 1930s style pop tunes and a number of fascinating big band manuscripts which came to light in the 1990s, showing that he was really keeping up with the current styles, albeit in a very Mortonian way. As a whole, Jelly’s compositional output represents a revolutionary degree of inventiveness, skill, and diversity of styles for an early jazz musician, decades ahead of his peers and foreshadowing many future trends in jazz. His tunes range from simple dirty blueses out of the brothels of New Orleans to melancholic and rhapsodic “Spanish Tinge” pieces to complex multi-part hot stomps and rags, full of complex stops and breaks, and all allowing for his trademark style of improvisation, closely related to the theme but rich in counterpoint and an unparalleled rhythmic feel combining a strong drive with a unique New Orleans style relaxation and a very full piano tone which never crosses the line to tasteless bashing.
David and I began playing together when I moved to London from Portland, Oregon in 2013 and we quickly secured a weekly duo gig during which we learned a lot of Morton’s best known compositions. We’ve continued to work together frequently in the Dime Notes and Vitality Five, and one day in 2017 as we added yet another fantastic Morton tune to the book of one of the bands, David suggested we should just learn them all! This seemed rather hilarious and we quickly started recording YouTube videos and posting them at a rate of two per week, with a goal to record and post all 93 tunes during 2018. Despite a fair bit of stress later in the year, we managed to complete this goal and decided to put down some of our favorites in the studio for this album. We’ve selected a cross section with a few well-known tunes and a lot of lesser-played ones demonstrating the full range of Morton’s compositional style and featuring David on bass clarinet and bass sax in addition to clarinet for some added textures.

Shreveport Stomp, one of Morton’s best known fast stomp tunes, introduces the typical three part form of many of his stomps (AABBACCC). The second strain of this one features one of Morton’s most bizarre harmonic twists in his entire output!
We owe a thanks to Vince Giordano, the legendary New York bandleader, for unexpectedly unearthing the sheet music to Croc-O-Dile Cradle, which was never recorded by Morton, when he was leafing through a huge box of sheet music acquired from eBay recently. It has been recorded in the past few years by the wonderful Paul Asaro and the Fat Babies from Chicago, and we’ve now added this duo version to the very few recorded versions of this great and intricate tune.

Gan Jam is another rarity, one of the charts Jelly wrote not long before his death in 1941 for a modern big band project he was working on in one of his many ill-fated attempts to regain his previous popularity and fame. It’s a particularly unique piece, combining the type of “Jungle” textures popularized by the likes of Duke Ellington and Tiny Parham with some harmony reminiscent of contemporary classical music of the time and a tinge of typical Morton stomp. Also unrecorded by Morton, the score was found in the Historic New Orleans Collection and published in the 1990s and was premiered by Evan Christopher and later recorded by Randy Sandke and others in its big band form. With the help of our good friend Michael McQuaid, we’ve reduced this one to a duo formation featuring some great bass clarinet by David on his beautiful horn from the late 1920s.

State and Madison is a tune co-written by Morton, Bob Peary, and Charles Raymond, and published in a stock orchestration in 1928 but only recorded by Morton in a piano solo during his lengthy interview with Alan Lomax in the Library of Congress in 1938. It’s a nice three-strain piece with some unusual twists and turns, perhaps coming from the co-composers, and has a particularly relaxed vibe.

Finger Buster was touted by Morton as “the most difficult piece of jazz piano ever written” with typical hyperbole! It’s more of an athletic than purely technical challenge, though Morton’s original 1938 recording is a bit of a feat as he made the record not long after being stabbed in the chest while attempting to break up a fight in the bar he owned, and was ordered by the doctors to stop playing while he recovered. Instead, he immediately went and recorded this tour de force! We’ve added David’s thumping bass sax for maximum impact.

Courthouse Bump is more representative of Jelly’s late 20s band records, a nice and simple tune giving us another opportunity to bring out the bass clarinet.

Stratford Hunch returns to the typical three strain stomp form. This one was also recorded by Louis Armstrong under the title of Chicago Breakdown and we’ve included a bit of his incredible trumpet solo to the third strain.

Mamanita is one of Morton’s best “Spanish Tinge” pieces, dedicated to his long time mistress Anita Gonzalez, with whom he had a torrid love affair in the 1910s all up and down the west coast. He later moved to Chicago and New York and married another woman, but returned to Anita at the end of his life after towing his Lincoln behind his Cadillac from New York to L.A. in the dead of winter.

Good Old New York takes us to the late period tunes which he wrote in an effort to compete with the popular “Tin Pan Alley” type tunes of the 1930s. It has a chord sequence more similar to many 30s tunes and some great melodic turns that we particularly enjoy.

Freakish is one of a small number of “modern” pieces written by Jelly in 1929 or so. It uses a descending chromatic chord progression in the first and second sections which was quite in vogue at the time as a way to inject a bit of edginess into jazz, reminiscent of Bix Beiderbecke’s famous In A Mist piano solo, among other tunes of that year. The third strain, however is pure Morton, building to a fantastic climax with a variety of textures and breaks.

I Hate A Man Like You was written by Morton for one of his rare recordings as a sideman with the blues singer Lizzie Miles and is a very unusual and dark minor-key tune. In his Library of Congress interview, he claims it was was an written about a horrible friend of his and the stories told in the tune, about a man leaving his wife on their wedding night among other reprehensible acts, were “entirely true.”

Jungle Blues is a great thematic blues tune written only on one chord. This type of harmony, or rather anti-harmony, is generally accepted as having been popularized in jazz by Miles Davis on his famous 1959 album “Kind of Blue”, but here we have an example of a one-chord tune recorded 30 years prior!

Black Bottom Stomp is an exciting romp famously recorded by Morton’s most well-known and skilled version of the Red Hot Peppers in 1926, featuring such New Orleans luminaries as Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Kid Ory on trombone and Johnny St Cyr on banjo, and we’ve tried to capture the spirit of all of their solos here, attempting to respect Morton’s opinion that a good solo piano performance (or duo, in our case) should replicate a full band.

Mr. Jelly Lord was Morton’s ode to himself, the lyrics stating “In foreign lands across the sea / they knight a man for bravery / make him a duke or a count you see / must be a member of royalty. / Mr. Jelly played a jazzy thing / in the temple by the queen and king / all at once he struck upon a harmonic chord / king said, ‘make Jelly a lord!’” David gives us a lovely interpretation on the rarely heard bass saxophone, which fell rapidly out of popularity after the great depression of 1929 but was frequently used in jazz bands before that point.

Finally we’ve included My Home is in a Southern Town, one of Morton’s late pop tunes. Its lyrics fit into the common “back to the South” mold of many tunes of the time but the melody and harmony have a particularly unique gospel tinge and, as it was the last tune Morton commercially recorded, it seemed an appropriate way to close the album.

We hope you enjoy this unique look into some of the lesser played tunes by this great figure in jazz history.




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