This Creole cottage is the home where Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (ca. 1885-1941) was born and raised. Morton was one of the greatest pianists, composers, arrangers and bandleaders of early jazz. He often said that he invented jazz single-handedly; while this is an exaggeration, he was instrumental in the development of the form.
Morton’s family name was probably LaMothe—the Anglicized “Morton” was his own creation (for its part, “Jelly Roll” was a sexual term). He grew up here in a community of Creoles of color, many of whom were French-speaking, educated Catholics descended from gens de couleur libres (free people of color). As a youth, Morton studied several instruments formally, but eventually took up the piano, for which he is best known. Morton recalled:
“We always had some kind of musical instruments in the house including guitar, drums, piano, trombone, and so forth and so on. We had lots of them and everybody always played for their pleasure—whatever ones desired to play. We always had ample time that was given to us in periods to rehearse our lessons, anyone that was desirous of accepting lessons.”
While Morton’s family appreciated music, especially at the French Opera House, they did not regard playing it as a worthy vocation for him. Nevertheless, as a young man he earned money playing piano at some of the finest brothels in Storyville. He became a hustler, and ran with a rough crowd. His style mingled aspects of his classical music background with the blues, and used Afro-Cuban rhythms like the habanera to create a sound he referred to as the “Spanish tinge.” His compositions such as “Jelly Roll Blues” and “Black Bottom Stomp” are considered some of the finest jazz songs from the period.
This house was renovated after Hurricane Katrina by Jack Stewart, a general contractor and preservationist, and rented to musicians.