"King Porter Stomp" and the Jazz Tradition
Toward the end of his life in May 1938, Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll" Morton
(1890-1941) walked into the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium
sporting an expensive suit, a gold watch fob and rings, and a diamond studded
incisor (Lomax 1993:xvii). He sat down at the piano and, with the
assistance of folklorist Alan Lomax, conveyed his music and life story into
what Lomax called a "one-lung portable Presto recorder" (ibid.:287).
Speaking in a measured, orotund baritone, Morton explored his past at a
leisurely, dignified pace, but he was eager to set the record straight on one
particular subject: that he had "personally originated jazz in New Orleans
in 1902" (ibid.:84). Historians have since shown the origins of jazz to be
more complicated than Morton allowed (Gushee 1994; Panetta 2000), but
none can refute the story of his most popular and enduring composition,
"King Porter Stomp". "King Porter Stomp" did indeed become a standard during the Swing
Era, widely performed by big bands throughout the 1930s and beyond.
Moreover, as Morton said, many musicians used the chords, the "backgrounds,"
of "King Porter'''s Trio and Stomp sections as the basis for
new tunes. Adding luster to "King Porter'''s agency in jazz history, Benny
Goodman gave the piece a key role in an account of his band's legendary
performance at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on the night of
August 21, 1935. As Goodman recalled, when the band started playing
Fletcher Henderson's arrangements of "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "King
Porter Stomp," the "place exploded" (Goode 1986).
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- November 19, 2014