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UNIVERSAL LIBRARY 1145 By Alan Lomax tf Al WAWA Drawings by David Stone Martin a biography-autobiography of Morton, based on the interviews he had conducted both with Jelly Roll and with his contemporary musicians, his wife Mabel, his relatives \(includChicago publishers. Lomax’s interviews and his insightful understanding of Morton’s contributions to jazz resulted in a unique volume in the history of the musicone that was reprinted in November 2001 to the same encomiums that greeted it on its first appearance more than 50 years before. Alan Lomax died in July of 2002. Last spring a new “definitive” biography of Jelly Roll Morton appeared, coauthored by Howard Reich, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, and William Gaines, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative reporter who now teaches journalism at the University of Illinois. Their book is based on a series of articles that they wrote for the Tribune in 1999. Jelly’s Blues is a well-researched book, praiseworthy for once again broadcasting Morton’s major artistic achievements, and valuable for unearthing facts unavailable to Lomax. Through FOIA requests, for example, they uncovered correspondence between Morton and the Attorney General regarding the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers verges on the unethical, and is ultimately downright shameful. To compete in the bookselling market, they seem to have gone out of their way to utilize different sources for the very same information found in Mister Jelly Roll, even as they purposely ignore, unjustly denigrate, and even at times plagiarize Lomax’s book. Seeking to appear the first to present accounts already contained in MisterJelly Roll, they provide scanty notes in Jelly’s Blues and avoid making clear the connection between Lomax’s interviews at the Library of Congress and Lomax’s Mister Jelly Roll, which they occasionally quote without bothering to give credit. Not until we come to the footnotes for the fourth chapter do we find a reference to Lomax’s book. \(Many of the quotes in the first three chapters of Jelly’s Blues are simply identified as “interview, Library of Congress, 1939,” without the co-authors ever disclosing that almost all of their information exists word for word in Only in their final chapter do they at last inform the reader that “Alan Lomax turned his Library of Congress interviews with Morton into Mister Jelly Roll, his oral biography of Morton.”This is at the very least subterfuge. Whenever they acknowledge Lomax’s precedence they do so begrudginglythen charge the author with having “codified many of the myths that had long gathered around Morton’s name.” One of these so-called myths involves Morton’s pride in claiming to be a Creole with almost no Negro blood. They claim that Lomax fostered the myth and the 1993 Broadway musical Jelly’s Last Jam perpetuated it. If Lomax contributed to the notion that Morton suffered from a type of racism, which apparently was a commonplace among New Orleans Creoles with more white blood than black, he did so by relying on Morton’s own words. In his Library of Congress interviews Jelly averred that his people had come straight to America from “the shores of France.” Moreover, a decade before Jelly’s Blues was published, Lomax was openly critical ofJelly’s Last Jam in the 1993 introduction to a third edition of his Mister Jelly Roll. He observed that, among other inaccuracies and shortcomings, the play neglected Morton’s “innovative compositions” and substituted “supposedly sophisticated formulas,” such as white Chicago jazz recorded in New York in the 1930s. \(This was my own principal disappointment with the play, rather than its dramatizing Jelly’s having been rejected by his Creole grandmother Mimi Peche for playing in the bordellos and his Time and again, Reich and Gaines try to make the case that only they have truly appreciated Morton’s integrity, his artistic accomplishments, and his deserved place as the first great composer in jazz. An example of the authors’ handlingor mishandlingof Lomax’s material occurs in the second chapter of their book, where they quote one of the most impressive statements ever made by Jelly Roll Morton. The context is a discussion of the composer’s discovery of a method for notating jazz, which had not existed prior to his 1915 written score for his “Jelly Roll Blues.”They quote Morton as saying “I myself figured out the peculiar form of mathematics and harmonics that was strange to all the world but me.” There’s no source for the quote in the notes at the back of the book. But a version of the same quote appears in Lomax’s book, in his chapter appropriately entitled “Jelly Roll Blues”: 9/12/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7