JELLY ROLL MORTON'S LAST NIGHT AT THE JUNGLE INN by Samuel Charters

JELLY ROLL MORTON'S LAST NIGHT AT THE JUNGLE INN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An imaginary memoir""--with jazz-great Jelly Roll chattily reviewing his life and career one night in 1940, after-hours at Washington's Jungle Inn, shortly before his Los Angeles death. In understated, reasonably authentic language (slang, repetitions, digressions), the Creole pianist recalls his childhood in racially tense 1890s New Orleans, his attraction to all-black honky-tonks (where ""you didn't have to act like no damned nigger""), his early keyboard triumphs in Florida, his pride and ambition: ""I was always looking for someplace that was big enough for me and I'm still looking today."" He tells anecdotes about rival piano-players, about a trip to color-blind Mexico, about his many girls and life on the road. (Contrary to rumor, however, he never pimped: ""I never took nothing of what they made."") He touches on career-highlights--recordings, songwriting, brief appearances in N.Y., longer stints in L.A. and Chicago. And he occasionally goes into a little musical detail, distinguishing himself from other, more celebrated jazz giants--while proclaiming himself ""the man who knew more about how jazz music was supposed to be played than anybody else in the world."" Finally, however, though Charters is a veteran jazz-writer, this chronological monologue offers no clear projection of the musical history involved. Nor, on the other hand, despite the bits of romance and comedy, does the mock-testimony provide any novelistic shape or drama. Despite the conscientious, affectionate crafting here, then: a flat, unfocused slice of bio-fiction--marginally informative, mildly colorful.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1983
Publisher: Marion Boyars--dist. by Scribners