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* Harlem Renaissance *



                Jazz Music        Jelly Roll Morton's Bio        "Dead Man Blues"    


Jelly Roll Morton

Jazz Music during the Harlem Renaissance    

During the 20th century, a new generation of black musicians created a flourishing African American culture known as the Harlem Renaissance, a time when the blues and the jazz were hot.  It was also known as "the best of times," but also "the worst of times" because even though blacks and whites joined on the dance floors at night and shared tables at the newest blues and jazz clubs, racial discrimination still existed.  Racist policies and sentiments still separated Americans in all aspects of life, and as a result, tensions grew between the whites and blacks.  Other than racism, music during the Harlem Renaissance was the bomb, especially jazz music. 

The jazz music was developed around the 1900s in New Orleans.  Jazz is the most important contribution by the American black musician to the art of the music.  Jazz is about feeling, and therefore no need for a definite definition.  Jazz music developed from slave work songs and religious spirituals, their text being about their lives and their yearning for freedom, to get away from the pain and agony.  There are different types of jazz including Dixieland, blues, swing, boogie-woogie, ragtime, New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.  The style of jazz differentiated from the earlier styles because of the distinguished use of improvisation, which means in jazz, to compose spontaneously while performing (usually by playing variations of the melody or of a theme).  Jazz music presented a rest from Western musical traditions (classical music), where the composer wrote a piece of music on paper and the musician plays exactly what was is written in the score.  In a jazz piece, the song is often in framework for the musicians to improvise around.  Also, unlike the classical style where there are rules for melody and harmony, jazz music is not bound by rules, and while the melody and harmony go together to create a pleasant tone, jazz has a clashing sound called dissonance.  Another essential element of jazz music during the time was called a syncopated rhythm, one in which the weak beats are accented; this syncopated rhythm grew out of classical music.  

Many of the musicians during the Harlem Renaissance were not very skilled at reading the scores, and some could not read music at all.  However, their playing thrilled and motivated audiences, and the improvised jazz music they produced gave the audiences a joy and feeling of experience that was an exciting and radical departure from the music of that time.  Thus, African American musical styles became the leading influence in 20th century music during the Harlem Renaissance, and therefore had a deep and lasting effect on the development of some of America’s most important cultural traditions.








Jelly Roll Morton's Biography 

After World War I, music began to change, and hence, the Harlem Renaissance evolved, a time in which black musicians found fame.  There were nightclubs featuring many of the great jazz musicians, certainly including Jelly Roll Morton.                                                           

Jelly, a mixed breed of French and African American (Creole), grew up in New Orleans around 1885.  He struggled constantly to avoid being classified as black; however, he was never fully accepted in white society and never comfortable in black circles.  As a result, he became close to becoming an outcast.  However, Jelly received his fame later on in his life because his youthful experiences in music inspired him in many ways.  Firstly, playing around with a variety of instruments such as the drums, harmonica, violin, trombone, and piano, gave him a start in composing in his later years. Secondly, Jelly grew up in New Orleans, a city where music was the vital source of entertainment.  Eventually, he began to travel to different places such as New York and Los Angeles to begin performing, and during his travel times, Jelly combined a variety of black musical styles including ragtime, vocal and instrumental blues, religious hymns, and spirituals with Hispanic music from the Caribbean and white popular songs, creating a musical mixture called jazz.

Jelly was the  first great composer, a piano player of jazz, and a band leader of the famous jazz band called the Red Hot Peppers.  Besides being celebrated and popular, he was a sincere person whose spirit shone deeply through history.  Succeeding as a piano player he became an important transitional figure between ragtime and jazz piano styles. 














"Dead Man's Blues"

    Jelly Roll Morton’s composition “Dead Man Blues” is famous for its blend of jazzy elements.  Instruments heard in this piece of music include the trumpet, the clarinet, the trombone, piano, and the drums.  The trumpet plays the melody in an energetic, hard-hitting, and syncopated style, while the clarinet plays in a frilly way, meaning it bounces from one octave to another.  The trombone does not have a major role, but it plays a bass line and lower harmonies, and it also slides from one pitch to another sometimes.  And the drums keep the beat, and sometimes adds extra beats throughout the music piece.  Besides these instrument sounds, the rhythm as well as melody variations of the music is a key jazz component for this piece.












Works Cited

Birth ofa Nation – Harlem Renaissance movie

Halliwell’s Handout – Jazz

 Hughes, Langston. Famous Negro Music Makers. NY: Vail-Ballou Press, 1955.

Wilder, Jesse Bryant. Nexus The Harlem Renaissance. OH: Pallas Communication, 1996.


Internet Sources: