Black US jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. He was an important link between ragtime and New Orleans jazz.
Born in New Orleans, he was disowned by his family for playing the piano in brothels. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago and in 1923–24 recorded nineteen piano solos, nearly all his own compositions; in 1926–30 he made a long series of recordings for Victor with small bands called Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers. His arrangements were revolutionary in that they retained the blend of individual instrumental voices and the excitement of their cross-talk within formal orchestration. However, Morton's style was unable to change with the times, and he saw his popularity wane, although his composition ‘King Porter Stomp’ was a hit in the Swing Era that followed. In 1938 he recorded hours of conversation and reminiscence of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, as well as playing and singing, for the Library of Congress. The following year he recorded a set of piano solos and blues.
His piano playing was technically complex and harmonically advanced for its time; his music contained Spanish and operatic elements, as well as the blues and ragtime. His recordings provide an invaluable insight into the evolution of early jazz.