Related Artists

Fats Waller


Bessie Smith


Count Basie


Thelonious Monk


Charlie Parker


Benny Goodman & His Orchestra


Duke Ellington


Benny Goodman


Raymond Scott


The Autumns

Jelly Roll Morton Biography


Home > Music > J > Jelly Roll Morton > Biography


Birth Name: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (possibly spelled Lemott, LaMotte or LaMenthe)
Born: 1885/09/20
Birth Place: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Died: 1941/07/10
Years Active: ca. 1900 - 1941
Genres: Ragtime, Jazz, Jazz Blues, Dixieland, Swing


Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe was born on October 20, 1890 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was known by his professional name, Jelly Roll Morton. Morton was a ragtime and early jazz pianist; bandleader; and composer, who started his career in New Orleans, Louisiana. Considered by fans and critics alike as a pivotal figure in early movement of jazz, Morton's style was rooted in improvisation. 1925 saw Morton's composition “Jelly Roll Blues” become the first published jazz composition. Other standards in jazz that Morton popularized are: “Wolverine Blues,” “Black Bottom Stomp,” and “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say.” Morton was raised amongst the rich and diverse musical culture of New Orleans, and showed a great interest in music from an early age. By the Time Morton was 14 years of age he was working as a piano player in a brothel. Morton's piano playing was heavily influenced by another pianist at the timer who also played in local brothels called, Tony Jackson.

1904 saw Morton embark on a number of tours with minstrel shows; while on the road, Morton composed some of his most famous pieces, including “Jelly Roll Blues,” “New Orleans Blues,” “Frog-I-More Rag,” “Animule Dance,” and “King Porter Stomp.” From 1912 to 1914, Morton toured with his then girlfriend, Rosa Brown, as a vaudeville act before settling in Chicago for three years. 1917 saw Morton working with bandleader William Manuel Johnson in California, where Morton's tango “The Crave” became a sensational hit in Hollywood. Morton returned to Chicago in 1923 to publish the hit “Wolverine Blues;” this paved the way for a series of commercial recordings. 1926 saw Morton sign with Victor Records. Morton began recording with his band, the Red Hot Peppers, which consisted of Kid Ory, Omer Simeon, George Mitchell, Johnny St. Cyr, Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, and Andrew Hilaire. Morton toured with the band before relocating to New York City by the 1930s.

As the 1930s were under way, the effects of the Great Depression left Morton without a record contract. He hosted a radio show in 1934 as a way to make ends meet, while playing the club circuit in New York City. By 1935, Morton had relocated once again to Washington, D.C. and took a job as the manager, and resident piano player, of a jazz bar called the “Music Box.” After being stabbed one night in his bar, Morton, at the urging of his wife, left Washington. Though he healed from his wounds, he was never the same and began to suffer from asthma and other respiratory conditions which often left him hospitalized for three months at a time. As the 1940s emerged, Morton had written a wealth of new material that he intended to record and release. He was in the process of putting a new band together when he visited Los Angeles in 1941; however, his deteriorating health landed him in the hospital once again. Morton died on July 10, 1941 after an eleven-day stay in Los Angeles County General Hospital.

2005 saw a series of eight CDs released, full of interviews with Morton entitled, “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings. “This collection earned Morton a Grammy Award; that same year also saw Morton honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.