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Phil Pastras. Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. xx, 246 pp.

Ogren, Kathy J.

Author Phil Pastras opens his biographical study of legendary pianist Jelly Roll Morton with an epigram from poet Dylan Thomas-"Oh make me a mask"-and with that signal, Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West takes us on the road with trickster Ferdinand Joseph LaMenthe. Pastras appreciates the facility with which Morton, like many Amrican American jazz musicians, used performative masks to strategize resilient careers in a capricious music business. Morton's autobiography is Pastras' template, as he introduces the Library of Congress recordings in his preface to Dead Man Blues, Morton's version of his own life frames the rest of Pastras's biographical text. Pastras interviewed participants who provided valuable first-hand observations about Jelly Roll's activities, including musicians and friends who knew Morton in his last days. Pastras himself speculates at various points about the "real" story and the authentic character of Morton.



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Columbia University
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March 27, 2015