HOW JELLY ROLL MORTON INVENTED JAZZ by Jonah Winter

HOW JELLY ROLL MORTON INVENTED JAZZ

by , illustrated by
Age Range: 5 - 10
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Winter offers a speculative look at the life and musical career of jazz innovator Jelly Roll Morton.

Weaving a quasi-poetic text in the second person, an adulatory narrator addresses readers: “Here’s what could’ve happened / if you were born a way down south / in New Orleans, in the Land of Dreams / a long, long time ago.” Talented Morton played piano in bars as a boy; his great-grandmother threw him out for being a “LOWLIFE MUSICIAN.” Regarding this trauma, the narrator contends: “just one thing in the world, / could make the crying stop: // And this is why / and this is how / a thing called JAZZ got invented / by a man named Jelly Roll Morton. / Leastwise, that’s what / I thought I heard Mister Jelly Roll say.” Winter intersperses italicized lyrics from several songs in Morton’s repertoire, adding an invented verse to one. While the text pivots on Morton’s self-promotion as the inventor of jazz (which music historians both debate and dispute), the choice of an unreliable narrator arguably muddies still waters. Mallett’s acrylic paintings use red-golds and blue-blacks to evoke sunset and twilit tableaux filigreed with musical notation. Morton is mostly shown from behind or in silhouette; the cover portrait and one interior one, painted from different decades without attribution, don’t cohere.

Morton’s seminal role in jazz deserves both celebration and elucidation; this disjointed treatment mainly accomplishes the former. (author’s note, recommended listening, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)

Pub Date: June 16th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59643-963-4
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015




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