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Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West Hardcover – July 2, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"`It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, that New Orleans is the cradle of jazz and I, myself, happened to be the creator in the year 1902,'" responded Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton to an assertion that W.C. Handy originated jazz and the blues. Pastras (co-editor and co-translator of The New Oresteia of Yannis Ritsos), assistant English professor at Pasadena City College, zeroes in on the great pianist and composer's two Los Angeles tenures (1917-1923 and 1940-1941). His dense, academic study relies heavily on disputing previous Jelly Roll scholarship, such as Alan Lomax's biography (he simultaneously expresses gratitude toward his predecessors). Pastras discovered a scrapbook of Morton's that brings new information to light, particularly illuminating his romance with Anita Gonzales, the love of his life. Jelly left his future royalties to Gonzales, who was his companion for only four or five years, including the last nine months of his life. Pastras details Jelly Roll's relationship to club owners (Ada "Bricktop" Smith says, "He couldn't decide whether to be a pimp or a piano player. I told him to be both") and the music industry. Pastras's distant tone (occasionally tempered by a bubbling enthusiasm), his discussion of other scholarship and his narrow focus on one part of Jelly Roll's career render the book somewhat inaccessible to the general reader. 22 b&w photos. (July)Forecast: This book should prove valuable to music libraries and jazz scholars, as well as to avid Jelly Roll fans, but its specialized approach will appeal only to this small audience.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Pastras (English, Pasadena City Coll.) takes another look at two critical periods in the life of jazz pioneer Morton (1890-1941), n Ferdinand Lamothe. Using Alan Lomax's definitive Mister Jelly Roll (1950) as his foundation, the author begins with a brief overview of the big-spending, rough-and-tumble, self-satisfied Creole pianist, who desperately tried to shed his African heritage yet fervently believed in voodoo practices despite his Catholic upbringing. He focuses on Morton's first stay on the West Coast (1917-23), where he made the transition from a pool-hustling pimp with an interest in the piano to a major musician. He spends another chapter on a newly discovered scrapbook of letters, clippings, flyers, and documents that Morton himself assembled. In the last section, Pastras deals with the last two years of Morton's life, when he traveled to the West Coast to visit his dying godmother and to rekindle his smoldering love affair with Anita Gonzales. Though leaving some questions still unanswered, Pastras adds some interesting detail and critical analysis to the Jelly Roll Morton story and provides a supplemental text to Lomax's standard biography. Recommended for jazz fans. Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 270 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (July 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520215230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520215238
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,733,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Fontenot VINE VOICE on June 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Jelly Roll Morton, the self proclaimed "inventor of Jazz," remains one of the most complex figures in American music. Largely forgotten by the time of his death, Morton had pioneered the early New Orleans style jazz on record and seemed to be on the comeback trail and to be experimenting with the dominant swing style of the 1930s. Pastras provides an insight into Morton by examining his years on the West Coast(roughly the late teens to early twenties and then again in the early 1940s). The first period was among Morton's most satisfying both musically and personally, and the second seems to indicate an attempt at a comeback. Pastras sheds light on Morton's relationships with his godmother and his long time companaion Anita Gonzales and in the process examines the roles played by voodoo and "passing for white" among the Creole community. While the contributions of this book are many, one of the main thrusts is the often conflicting and, at times untrustworthy, nature of oral history as evidenced by Alan Lomax's previous oral history biography of Morton. In the end Lomax's book is more folklore than history. However this does not negate Lomax's contribution, but rather illuminates the pitfalls of not balancing oral history with other evidence if such evidence exists. It is Morton as he wished to present himself to the world. Pastras' text is not only interesting but instructive to those dealing with oral history, but the average reader may want to start with Lomax's book and then move to Pastras' more compelling investigation.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Walter Five VINE VOICE on February 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
WOW. After Alan Lomax's _Mr._Jelly_Roll_, this is THE book to get to understand the most boastful musical genius to grace the 1st half of the 20th Century. Jelly Roll Morton claimed to be the "Father of Jazz", and it seems certain that if he wasn't it's father, he was at least waiting in the delivery room at it's birth. This book covers the critical "lost years" of 1916-1922, and has a lot of material that escaped Mr. Lomax's attention when his book was published in 1950--in 53 years, enough has surfaced to justify a treatment like this, and Morton certainly deserves it. Until the transcriptions of his complete Library of Congress Recordings are published, this and Mr. Lomax's book are crucial to understanding this almost-forgotten genius, to whom modern music owes so much.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tony Thomas on December 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This would be a difficult book to understand for someone not already familiar with the life of Jelly Roll Morton. Focusing on the years Morton spent in California in the 1910s and 1930s, particularly at the beginning, the book focuses on how recent information on Jelly's life on the West Coast sheds new light's personal life on Morton and adds to consensus that despite harrowing conditions, illness that would become fatal, that in the late 1930s Morton was writing some very advanced music that was unfortunately neither recorded nor performed in his lifetime.

Be brave and muscle your way through the first part of this book which contains a bit more speculation than this reader would have preferred.

The book to start on Morton is _Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton_by Howard Reich
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