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Piano Rolls

Piano Rolls cover art

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About this Album

Who invented jazz, and what did it sound like when it was brand new? Arguably, jazz’s progenitor was the New Orleans–born Ferdinand LaMothe, who gained the name Jelly Roll Morton and became renowned as a pianist, bandleader, and composer during the 1920s. During this period, the “piano king” created performances on piano rolls, regarded as superior to sound recordings of the day because they could accommodate compositions of longer duration.

Piano-roll scholar Artis Wodehouse, producer of the highly acclaimed Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls series, has converted 12 of Jelly Roll Morton’s original piano rolls to computer data and recorded them on a modern-day player piano, the Yamaha Disklavier. The result is an unprecedented opportunity to hear Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions as he might have played them—in state-of-the-art digital sound.

Born in 1890, Jelly Roll Morton fused a myriad of musical styles abundant in the Crescent City—ragtime, European parlor music, blues and worksongs from the countryside—and then hit the road, spreading the message of early jazz to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere, all before he reached the age of 30. He proclaimed himself the “inventor of jazz,” but the outspoken personality that put him on the map later cut him off from others, and he died in relative obscurity in 1941.

Jelly Roll Morton: The Piano Rolls brings this legendary talent back into the spotlight. Wodehouse converted to computer files both Morton’s musically complete but expressionless piano rolls, as well as the contemporaneous but musically abbreviated old phonograph recordings—rich in Morton’s characteristic performance style but thin and tinny in sound. By setting the rolls side by side with the old phonograph records in computer format, she was able to reintroduce into the piano rolls the performance style lost in the roll-marking process that was Morton’s hallmark. Then the computer data was transfered to 3.5” diskette, inserted into a 9-foot Yamaha Disklavier, and recorded in the Academy of Arts and Letter by veteran producer Max Wilcox.

For the first time, Jelly Roll Morton’s full-length composition—with all their innovative breaks, polyphonies, and harmonic progressions—can be heard as if he were to sit down and play them for us today.


Realized by Artis Wodehouse
Anita Gonzales (4)
Walter Melrose, New Orleans Rhythm Kings (6)
Maceo Pinkard, Roy Turk (9)

Realized from piano rolls by Artis Wodehouse
Produced and engineered by Max Wilcox
Recorded February 22-23, 1997, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
Recording Engineer: Paul Zinman
Mastered at SoundByte Productions, New York
Digital audio consultant, MIDI editor; Ken Bookstein
Audio analysis, MIDI editing: Brad Beattie, Nicole LePera, Artis Wodehouse
Additional audio analysis: Charles Nichols
Conversion of piano rolls to MIDI data: Rob DeLand, Robert Rhodes, Richard Tonnesen, Richard Brandle
Performance Consultant: David Thomas Roberts
Computer Consultant: Joseph Patrych
Yamaha Disklavier CF3S concert grand piano technician: Gerhard Feldman
Roll collector, historical consultant: Michael Montgomery

Design by Voodoo Studio, New Orleans, LA
Cover photograph: Jelly Roll Morton at the Jungle Club, Washington, DC, 1938 Courtesy of the Frank Driggs Collection

Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz

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