Morton: Jelly Roll: 20 Sept c1890 – 10 July 1941

By | February 5, 2021


Black & White Photograph Of Morton in his twenties

Born in New Orleans, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe became known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton. He achieved fame as a ragtime jazz pianist and composer.


Pink Neon Sign with an arrow saying Girls

Jelly Roll started his career in 1914 whilst living with his church-going great grandmother. He had to lie to his family about his first job as it wasn’t in the most salubrious of establishments, namely a local brothel. It was here that he gained his nickname Jelly Roll, which was African-American slang for female genitalia. Unfortunately for him, his great grandmother discovered his secret and consequently disowned him. She told him that devil music would surely bring about his downfall! It is thought Jelly Roll changed his surname to Morton to protect his family.

In 1902 Jelly Roll was criticised over his claim to having created Jazz and consequently considered ‘egotistical’. However, it is possible that this was taken out of context. He is quoted as saying he created his own style of jazz piano because ‘All my fellow musicians were much faster in manipulations, I thought than I, and I did not feel as though I was in their class.’ – Quoted in John Szwed, Dr. Jazz

Music critic Scott Yanow wrote, “Jelly Roll Morton did himself a lot of harm posthumously by exaggerating his worth…Morton’s accomplishments as an early innovator are so vast that he did not really need to stretch the truth.”

In 1904 he toured, working in minstrel shows. It was during this time that he composed ‘Jelly Roll Blues’; ‘New Orleans Blues‘; ‘Frog-I-More Rag’; ‘Animule Dance’, and King Porter Stomp’. 

He spent the years 1910-13 touring with his girlfriend and then settled in Chicago for three years. In 1915 Jelly Roll Blues became was one of Morton’s first published jazz compositions. Once he began putting his pieces onto paper his popularity grew and he was invited to perform in various cities including Vancouver.

In 1928 he married showgirl Mabel Bertrand.


Jelly Roll died in 1941 due to an incident dating back to 1938 when he was stabbed in the head and chest whilst living in Washington. After the stabbing he was refused entry to the nearby ‘whites only’ hospital and had to travel further away to a black hospital. His treatment there wasn’t the best and as a result he experienced shortness of breath and illness for the rest of his life. They chose to leave Washington, ending up in a New York hospital suffering from asthma for three months. Jelly Roll’s condition continued to deteriorate. His plan was to move to Los Angeles and continue his career. Sadly he died in the Los Angeles General Hospital.

Further Reading & Musical Downloads

On we have a few downloads of Jelly Roll Morton Sheet Music for you to download.

For further information take a look at Wikipedia.

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