Monday Notes

Sonny Red, Jelly Roll. A blues for Jelly Roll Morton

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[Monday Notes no. 65] Sonny Red is the stage name of Sylvester Kyner, a saxophonist who has had rather limited recognition despite having played with great musicians such as Barry Harris, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Timmons. Jelly Roll is one of his pieces that celebrates the great Jelly Roll Morton.

Jelly Roll is a typical blues, but not in the classic 12-measure form but in the more archaic 16-measure form. However, the style of the piece does not look back to the past but is characteristic of the hard bop period, in fact the tune has a funky rhythm. In the introduction we can appreciate a very incisive bass line, to which the piano chords respond.

“Jelly Roll”, piano and bass introduction

Il riff iniziale di "Jelly Roll"
The opening riff of ‘Jelly Roll’.

The bass and piano play rhythmic and percussive patterns, allowing drummer Billy Higgins to be quite free in his timing. The theme played by the sax (0’18”) is typically blues, with its characteristic “blue notes” and predominantly descending phrases.

The main thene of “Jelly Roll”

Il tema di "jelly Roll" e le numerose blue note (X)
The ‘jelly roll’ theme and the several blue notes (X)

Jelly Roll is a blues not only in form, harmony and melody but also in the way it is played, Sonny Red plays all the phrases a little late on the beat, an effect known in jazz as ‘lay back’.

The series of solos opens with Sonny Red (1’01”) playing relaxed to the vigorous accompaniment of the rhythm section. During the third chorus (1’42”) the trumpet joins in, playing simple riffs, also contributing to the rhythm of the piece.

The second solo is by trumpeter Donald Byrd (2’26”), in this case it is the saxophone that joins the third chorus (3’05”) to play some accompanying riffs. The third solo is by pianist Cedar Walton (3’47”) who doesn’t deviate much from the initial riff, playing only a few response lines.

At the heart of this track is always rhythm, everyone gives their contribution, giving up a little freedom in the solos so as not to break the magic of this funky beat. The result is an irresistible piece: try to stand still while listening to it, if you can!

Until next Monday!

Download the sheet music with transcription of “Jelly Roll”

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