[Dixielandjazz] Re: Doctor Jazz - Jelly Roll Morton.

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet@earthlink.net
Sat, 28 Sep 2002 12:02:08 -0400

Bill Haesler wrote re: Doctor Jazz - Jelly Roll Morton.(polite snip)

Dear John, (Farrell)
I must agree with you. The lyrics do not point to drugs, apart from jazz
being addictive. I also think it is tenuous to connect JRM with
authorship of the song, just because he was the first to record it (16
Dec 1926). It was copyrighted in Chicago on 8 January 1927 from
published music. Words by Walter Melrose, music by Joseph Oliver.
Published by Melrose Brothers Music Publishing Company, Inc. .  .

Maybe Walter Melrose purloined the lyrics from Jelly. Maybe. However, I
think Jelly would have said something during the Library of Congress
interviews. Maybe. . .

PS: The Melrose brothers, also published "Wildman Blues" with composer
credit given to Morton-Armstrong. Louis never knew why he was given this
honour as, although he recorded the tune several times in 1927, he
claims not to have met Morton until the 1930s!

Bill, John, List Mates:

Melrose Publishing cheated Jelly Roll Morton out of most of the
royalties due him on the songs they published. Speculation about why JRM
did not say anything during the Library of Congress interviews about the
Dr Jazz Lyrics, or otherwise accuse them of stealing from him must
include the state of American society prior to WW 2. 

It would have been unthinkable given the times for a black man to
publicly accuse a white man of stealing from him. Perhaps even hazardous
to one's health.

Why Armstrong on Wild Man Blues? Again, the cynic in me comes out. If
Louis knew he was not the composer, he would not have expected
royalties. And since Melrose controlled JRM's royalties, it was a way
for them to say "Well, Louis gets his share, (while pocketing them)
etc., so there is not much left for you.

These kinds of split "composer credits" were, even through the be bop
era, a very common device used by jazz musicians and music publishers to
avoid royalty payments.

As I see it, there are three kinds of songs reputed to be about drugs.
The obvious ones, "Cocaine Blues", "Viper", "Who Put The Benzedrine in
Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine" etc. 

The not so obvious, faintly humorous double entendre ones like
"Straighten Up and Fly Right" (which some see merely as a Monkey going
for a ride on a Buzzard's back) and "Dr Jazz" 

And those that may sound like, but are not about Drugs, eg. "Puff The
Magic Dragon". 

The problem is figuring out which is which. One thing for sure, Jazz and
mind altering substances were room mates for a long time. Even in the
1940s/50s/60s, most jazz musicians, OKOM and otherwise, in NYC that I
knew were either smoking pot, shooting heroin, sniffing cocaine, taking
bennies and a host of other pills or heavily dependent upon alcohol. 

Steve (Jazz is not for sissies) Barbone

PS. And since the word "Jazz" is reputed to have had a sexual
connotation in those early years, it could also be about doing the
nasty.  ;-) VBG