by Charles Campbell
(from the liner notes of The Compositions of Jelly Roll Morton 1923 – 1941 on Timeless Records)
By the early 1930's I had started collecting jazz records. After some college years I got a job in Los Angeles and in 1937 met David Stuart and began hanging out in his Hollywood record store on my days off. The Jazz Man Record Shop was the only record store anywhere at that time, I believe, that carried only jazz. He wouldn't even stock records by the hot swing bands, Goodman, Shaw and such. Early on I had started collecting Bix and then early Armstrong, Oliver, Clarence Williams and such groups and to some extent Morton records. They weren't easy to find but I had most of the Red Hot Peppers, many of which were re-issued on the Bluebird label.

Click Here To OrderIn early 1941 David heard that Jelly Roll was in Los Angeles and we made an effort to find where he was staying. A few weeks later we got his address in the Central Avenue district of Los Angeles, at the house of Dink Johnson, also a piano player, who was, I believe, Jelly's brother-in-law. After all those years of hearing about him and searching out his music, finding him that Saturday morning at Dink's house was a great treat.

He could not have been more friendly to two jazz fans and he started talking about early New Orleans musicians and early piano players. After that first meeting we asked him if we could take notes and he had no objection. I was very good at shorthand so the next meetings with Jelly would be in restaurants where we would take him to lunch. I would try to take down everything he said about the old days so didn't have much time to eat since he would take about ten minutes to answer any question about musicians we had heard about. It was very fascinating. We were not aware that much of this material had been recorded by Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress, most of it in 1938.

We were able to phone him at Dink's and make appointments for our lunch meetings. Once in a while he would say that he wasn't feeling well enough to meet us. Then a week of so later he would be better and we'd pick him up at Dink's house. I never heard him play on a job since he wasn't working while in Los Angeles in those days. He did show us on Dink's piano how so-and-so used to sound, players like Louis Chauvin and Tony Jackson who hadn't recorded. The only player he really seemed to respect was Tony Jackson. I asked him about Earl Hines, a favorite of mine in those days. He said "I tried to catch up with Hines in Chicago and play with him but he always 'ducked out.'"

Some things come to mind. Jelly showed us a financial statement from Victor Records indicating royalties due him for the past year of $25.00, for King Porter Stomp which was a fairly big seller for Benny Goodman. It seemed like an outrageously small sum to me and an injustice to this legendary composer-musician, but how could a couple of young jazz aficionados take on the Victor Record company? Then I asked him about some of his song titles: Fussy Mabel? "I used to know a gal called Mabel and she was very fussy around the time that record was made." He always gave logical and amusing answers to our naive questions.

I had all of the recently released Mortons on the General label, the Jelly Roll Morton Seven and he said he liked the results quite a lot, except he sort of apologized for Sweet Substitute as being a pop tune. Another thing he told us is that he wrote Someday Sweetheart but sold the rights to the Spikes Brothers. He also said he preferred cornetist George Mitchell to Armstrong!

We were up to about 1912 in the interviews when we heard that Jelly was very ill and confined to a small private hospital in the Central Avenue district. I found it and visited him there; it was a small, dirty hole of a place and he was miserable being there. He promised he'd let us know when he got out but his condition got worse and he was taken to the Los Angeles County Hospital. He died there July 10, 1941.

I was working as a clerk in a stuffy oil company office and they wouldn't give me time off to attend a funeral unless it was a relative. My girl friend and I sent some flowers and we received a card with thanks for our "expression of sympathy," signed Mrs. Anita Morton. I still have it.

I turned over all of my transcribed shorthand notes to David Stuart for him to do something about an article for one of the jazz publications, but before anything could be done the war started for us. David became a navigator in the Air Transport Command and I joined the Coast Guard for four years. Everything pertaining to the Jelly Roll Morton interviews was lost. But my memory of him as a proud, congenial, articulate person is vivid after all of these years.

Charles Campbell
San Francisco, California
March, 1996

If you would like to order the Timeless Records' CD of The Compositions of Jelly Roll Morton 1923 – 1941 you can do so through Worlds Records or direct from Timeless Records.