Book review: How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Winter, Jonah. How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz.Illustrated by Keith Mallett. Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, 2015. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 9781596439634. Ages 4-3rd grade. P7 Q9

Winter Jelly Roll MortonMister Jelly Roll Morton’s story begins in hypotheticals posed in colloquial style. Mister Morton is a cook, Jazz is gumbo, and symphony can be measured in teaspoons. The verse is punctuated by jazzy lyrics that drive home Winter’s biographical musings. How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz doesn’t share factoids or specific dates. It doesn’t attempt to convince the reader of how jazz came to be. It isn’t a bland history lesson. It does follow the linear narrative of Jelly Roll Morton’s adventurous, often tragic life, the way he lived it—one piano note at a time. We are introduced to the New Orleans of long ago, to voodoo queens, stained-glass lamp light, and self-proclaimed low-life musicians. Winter uses metaphor, symbolism, and the dramatically back-lit acrylic paintings of Keith Mallett to capture the feeling of Morton’s New Orleans. This story doesn’t include a detailed chronology of the evolution of jazz; but, it does capture the emotion and dedication it takes to create something so cooperatively dynamic as jazz. If you are looking for dates and factoids, Winter has included them after the story along with recommendations on how to hear Mister Morton’s recordings. This book is a welcome linguistic departure and a successful introduction to the Jazz Age.

October 2015 review by Lillian Curanzy.


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