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Jelly Roll Morton – “King Porter Stomp” (Track of the Day)

Composition entered the public domain Jan. 1, 2019

A few years after leaving the West Coast, including a stint in Vancouver, B.C., where he had had an extended stay at the Patricia Hotel, Jelly Roll Morton began his recording career in Chicago and Richmond, Indiana, under various names.

On one of his first sessions, billed as Ferd (Jelly Roll) Morton, he recorded “King Porter (A Stomp),” as a piano solo for Gennett Records on July 17, 1923. The song entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2019.

Ironically, one of the reasons he left the West Coast in 1921 was to protect the copyright on his tunes. During this period sheet music was still a lucrative market and Morton was concerned other people were making claims on his original material. In particular he was worried about the Spikes Brothers claiming co-writer credit on “Wolverine Blues” (Spikes-Morton-Spikes) and accepting a $3,000 advance from Melrose Brothers Music, a Chicago business that became publishers because they were handling Morton’s music. He was also miffed on semantic and aesthetic grounds as the piece was not actually a blues. Johnny St. Cyr remembers Morton playing “The Wolverines” in New Orleans as early as 1906.

See: “The Great Jazz Swindle,” by Howard Reich and William Gaines, Chicago Tribune, 1999.

Morton was one of the first, if not the first, jazz composer. He told Alan Lomax: “In all my recording sessions and in all my band work, I always wrote out the arrangements in advance. When it was a New Orleans man, that wasn’t so much trouble, because those boys knew a lot of my breaks; but in traveling from place to place I found other musicians had to be taught. So around 1912 I began to write down this peculiar form of mathematics and harmonics that was strange to all the world.” (Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz, 1950).

For Gennett Records history see: