This edition of Riverwalk Jazz features The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with Broadway's Vernel Bagneris, recorded live on stage at the historic Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento in 2000, as part of the city's annual Jazz Jubilee.
Jelly Roll Morton had a tendency to exaggerate. Printed on his business card was the proclamation— "Inventor of Jazz." There was a kernel of truth behind Jelly's claim. He was among the very first important composers and recording stars in jazz. Arguably, he was the first jazz composer to write down his own remarkable jazz compositions in musical notation. Today, his body of work is at the core of many classic jazz band playlists, including The Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
Our special guest this week is the Obie Award-winning actor and playwright Vernel Bagneris, who wrote, produced, and starred in the critically-acclaimed show Jelly Roll, based on folklorist Alan Lomax's interviews with Jelly Roll Morton in the 1930s.
On this broadcast, Vernel Bagneris performs excerpts from his off-Broadway show, in which Morton talks about his life and times. He comments on his French-Creole origins, his early music education, the New Orleans red light district, and the outrage he felt late in life when he was ignored by his fellow musicians and denied acknowledgment as an innovator in early jazz. (See I Created Jazz in 1902, Not W.C. Handy, written by Jelly in 1938.)
Here, Vernel Bagneris and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band perform tunes Jelly Roll Morton recorded for the Victor label in the 1920s with his studio band of New Orleanians, the Red Hot Peppers. These Victor recordings are still widely revered for their precision, imagination and fiery, driving rhythm. Titles performed on this radio show include, "Pep," "Jelly Roll Blues," "Milneberg Joys," "Wild Man Blues" and a pair of Jelly's more self-reflective numbers, "Winin' Boy Blues" and "Sweet Substitute."
Photo credit for home page teaser image: Jelly Roll Morton. Photo courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2000