Jelly Roll Morton probably wrote Frog-i-More rag in 1908 to accompany a fellow vaudevillian known as Frog-i-More, a contortionist who performed in a frog costume, but he did not deposit the music for copyright until 1918 for fear that any form of public record was an invitation to purloin his ideas.
Morton’s piano style and musical greatness are nowhere better demonstrated. All of the most typical features are abundantly evident: his wealth of melodic invention and skill in variation; the tremendous swing; his feeling for formal design and attention to detail; his effective use of pianistic resources; the contrasts of subtle elegance with hard hitting drive; and the variety of harmony yet freedom from complication and superficial display.
This according to “Jelly Roll Morton and the Frog-i-More rag” by William Russell, an essay included in The art of jazz: Essays on the nature and development of jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 35–36).
Today is Morton’s 135th birthday! Below, a performance of the piece via mediated piano roll.
A pair of brief unattributed articles appeared in the July 1901 issue of American musician to articulate opposing viewpoints on ragtime, which had become increasingly popular since the late 19th century.
War on ragtime denounced the genre in no uncertain terms: “The ragtime craze has lowered the standards of American music as compared with other countries…we will not give way to a popular demand that is degrading.”
Suppression of ragtime expressed a more lighthearted view:
“Last week a national association of musicians in convention at Denver solemnly swore to play no ragtime, and to do all in their power to counteract the pernicious influence exerted by Mr. Johnson, My ragtime lady, and others of the Negro school…
“But the people do not want to be educated all the time…Their great desire with music is to be pleased—to forget for a time that there is anything in this world but sunshine and laughter, and birds and flowers and purling brooks.
“And they find all those things in the homely and catchy pieces that quicken the heart-beats and make the nerves tingle with delight; yes, in ragtime, bubbling, frothing, sparkling; as light as a summer breeze and as sweet as woman’s kiss.”
This courtesy of “War on ragtime and Suppression of ragtime” in From jubilee to hip hop: Readings in African American music, edited by Kip Lornell (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2010), pp. 23–25. Below, Jelly Roll Morton plays the ragtime classic Shreveport stomp via piano roll.
Libreria Musicale Italiana inaugurated the series Grooves: Edizioni di Musiche Audiotattili in 2011 with Jelly Roll Morton, la Old qaudrille e Tiger rag: Una revisione storiografica by Vincenzo Caporaletti. The book explores the longstanding question of whether Morton composed Tiger rag, which he claimed he adapted from an old quadrille, despite its having been copyrighted by Nick La Rocca.