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May 5 | Jelly Roll Morton’s “Creepy Feeling” (transcribed by James Dapogny), performed by Bradley Berg
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About the composer and piece
Program notes written by Bradley Berg
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton) (c. 1890–1941) was a pioneering jazz composer, pianist, bandleader, and arranger who was born and raised in the Creole community of New Orleans. In his early career, Morton made a living as a ragtime pianist and vaudeville entertainer in bars, night clubs, and sporting houses. In addition to performing, Morton began writing down his own tunes and arranging them for the ‘hot’ jazz band ensembles of the 1920s. He formed a group of fellow New Orleans musicians called Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, who made a series of successful recordings and tours in the decade leading up to the Great Depression.
While Morton’s piano compositions were influenced by ragtime, he developed his own style of playing that had many distinctive qualities. The left hand is more active and varied than the steady eighth-note figurations of ragtime and the right hand is much more complex, often playing two or three voices at once. Morton’s expertise as a bandleader contributed to his quasi-orchestral writing for the piano, with many intricate moving parts suggesting the rich texture of a jazz ensemble. Morton proclaimed in a recorded interview with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress that “my theory is to never discard the melody,” which is confirmed by the fact that some of his most impressive pieces involve endless variations on a single melodic idea. Although he wrote down some of his tunes for piano, Morton’s recordings show that he regularly improvised different versions of the same piece so that no two performances sounded identical (for example, here is an earlier recording and later recording of “The Crave,” both of which sound similar but with different embellishments). The piece in this recording, “Creepy Feeling,” is one of Morton’s so-called ‘Spanish Tinge’ pieces that incorporates a habanera-like rhythm in the left hand. Being born and raised in the multicultural center of New Orleans, some of Morton’s music bears the influence of the same Latin-Caribbean elements that would later become associated with the Afro-Cuban style of Dizzy Gillespie.
Morton’s piano works have been consistently overlooked and underplayed, probably in part because of the complicated and personal nature of his performances. Yet it is possible, through a careful study of Morton’s recordings, to revive these works in a manner that is both authentic in spirit and rewarding in performance. Jazz arranger James Dapogny has made an invaluable study of Morton’s works by transcribing them from their original versions as piano-vocal scores, piano rolls, and recordings into solo piano notation. The music in this recording has been freely interpreted from two sources: Morton’s own Library of Congress performance in 1938 and Dapogny’s transcription of it, which preserves most but not all of the details of Morton’s playing. The performer of the present recording has also taken some minor liberties with the score in the same way that Morton always varied his music with each repetition; the music should maintain a fine balance between sounding improvised yet composed at the same time. No pianist today can ever hope to perfectly match Morton’s style, but they can still approximate it, engage with it, share it, and celebrate it through modern performance.
About this week’s performer
Bradley Berg is a pianist and musicologist from Cincinnati, Ohio. He studied piano with Jean-Louis Haguenauer at Indiana University, where he is also finishing his Master’s in Musicology this year. His repertoire and research centers around Romantic pianism, especially the works of the French pianist-composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.
A new virtual performance Wednesdays at 12pm ET
Date TBA | Florence Price: Sonata in E minor, II. Andante
Jude Richardson, piano
|March 10 | Cedric Adderley: Allegro giocoso
B&T Duo (Tim Stephenson and Nicha Stapanukul), piano
|March 17 | Betty Jackson King: Four Seasonal Sketches
Mira Walker, piano
|March 24 | William Grant Still: “Out of the Silence”
Nathaniel Dett: “Barcarolle”
Amanda Andrishak, piano
Erik Wakar, piano
|March 31 | George Walker: Piano Sonata No. 2
Noah Sonderling, piano
|April 7 | Florence Price: “Breezes,” “Clouds,” and “Meditation”
Kaden Larson, piano
|April 14 | William Grant Still: Three Visions
Joseph Stiefel, piano
|April 21 | Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Toccata
Yoshino Toi, piano
|April 28 | Margaret Bonds: Spiritual Suite
Fernando Garcia, piano
About the series
The piano music of the African diaspora spans continents and centuries — this series alone will spotlight composers from Chevalier de Saint-Georges in late 18th Century Paris, to the Harlem Renaissance generation of Florence Price, to contemporary American composer Dr. Cedric Adderley, among many others.
Despite the rich history of this vast body of music, the predominantly white field of classical piano has largely neglected the Black art music tradition. In recognition that the mere act of performing a piece of music cannot address the systemic inequities that have led to this exclusion, we nonetheless hope that this series of performances can join the chorus of voices bringing more attention to the breadth and diversity of classical piano music. We especially wish to honor the Black performers and music researchers who have been instrumental in preserving and disseminating this music, whose work will be highlighted in the program notes to each performance.
Sponsored by the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Piano Department, the IU Arts and Humanities Council, the Jacobs Diversity and Equity Committee, and the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at IU