Ferdinand La Menthe

They say his birth name was Ferdinand La Menthe but in 1938 he told Alan Lomax he changed his name to Morton because he didn’t want to be called “Frenchie”. I played Jelly Roll Morton more than once but never got hit over the head, yet old articles by Whitney Balliett changes my interest. He writes about artists, specifically jazz artists, in ways that imparts a lot of magic one might not notice otherwise. How the rabbit out of a hat? It makes one goes back and check all the notes, otherwise you have an incomplete education. He did a lot of bragging, Jelly Roll Morton said he invented Jazz, maybe he did. Alberta Hunter said he was tall and ugly with the longest fingers she ever saw, Lawrence Lucie said he always smiled after he said something outrageous and Ahmet Ertegun’s brother Nesuhi said on a Jelly Roll Morton recording session, Trombonist Zue Robertson refused to play one of the melodies the way Morton wanted it played. Jelly took a big pistol out of his pocket and put it on the piano, and Robertson played the melody note for note. They’re good stories and feel true and well researched. When he entered a space with many musicians they’d stand up and say here comes the roll. At the end he relocated to Los Angeles and when he got sick and entered hospital they put him in a kind of broom closet, they teated him shabbily. A man who owned a record store, befriended him and visited him in hospital saying he’d hold his hand for hours “I’m sure he had no idea who I was anymore” and Baillett concludes when he died in July 1941 the Ellington and Lunceford bands were in town playing and no one from either group went to the funeral.

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