By Lynell George via Los Angeles Review of Books
“GOLD MIGHT BE hiding in plain sight; some small stowaway that’s been overlooked, or somehow dislodged, knocked into plain view. I’m always hoping for some sliver of a remnant.
I knew better, but I tossed my notebook and camera into the car anyway and threaded out the driveway. A few years back, sparked by a couple of sentences I couldn’t shake, I slipped out just after dawn for a little Sunday morning ghost chasing. I’d gotten midway through Howard Reich and William Gaines’s vivid 2003 biography: Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton, my imagination adrift in the descriptions of Morton’s rollicking Los Angeles years. The broadcasting-24-hour Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe Morton (better known as Ferd or simply ‘Jelly Roll’) was his own sky-sweeping searchlight and publicity department; Los Angeles was just another stop along the frenzied nonstop press tour that was his entire life. As the self-proclaimed ‘inventor of jazz,’ Morton, despite his ornate yet delicate polyphonic piano stylings, was as much a genius as he was bombastic.
The reporter in me wanted more. The night before, I’d dashed out a couple of addresses and some approximations based on the narrative’s descriptions, and had them at the ready when I snaked south down the 110 Freeway to Central Avenue. I wasn’t aiming for the area we Angelenos consider ‘Jazz Street,’ but a corridor further north, closer to downtown’s heart . . . .
But what I wanted to understand most: What did he and so many see when they arrived here, tired but exhilarated, finally unburdened of their pasts? What was their first glimpse? How did California suit them? How did it find its way into their creative imagination, their melodies?”
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