Chapter

Prelude to a Riff

Phil Pastras

in Dead Man Blues

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2001 | ISBN: 9780520215238
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520929739 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520215238.003.0001
Prelude to a Riff

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Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton played piano very well. His most famous boast was provoked by a broadcast of Robert Ripley's Believe It or Not radio program, which introduced W. C. Handy as the originator of jazz and the blues. Morton's bragging occasionally had the bitter overtone of jealousy or even of defeat. Music served either as a front for Morton's various illegal activities or as an adjunct to his work in vaudeville. The story Morton tells about his attempts to exorcise those demons helps to put his bragging and his brash self-confidence in a surprisingly poignant light. Morton's case is typical: in about five years (circa 1925–30) he went from star to has-been. The final trip to Los Angeles would seem to be, literally, a dead end, a final chorus of the “Dead Man Blues”.

Keywords: Ferdinand Morton; Jelly Roll; Dead Man Blues; piano; music; vaudeville

Chapter.  10827 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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