I a’m John Martin

John Roll Martin grew up in Newyork  and started to learn piano at the age of ten. By 1902, he was working in the bordellos of Storyville, playing ragtime, French quadrilles, and other popular dances and songs, as well as a few light (mostly operatic) classics. Nothing is known of his formal musical training, but his major youthful influence appears to have been Tony Jackson.

Around 1904, Morton became an itinerant pianist, working in many cities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. He was also apparently quite active as a gambler, pool player, and procurer, though music remained his first “line of business.

Retaining New Orleans as his base, he later extended his travels to Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City, frequently working for prolonged periods in minstrel shows. Eventually he traveled as far east as New York (where Jaynes P. Johnson heard Morton play his Jelly Roll Blues in 1911), and as far west as Los Angeles, where he arrived in 1917.

During these dozen years of travel, Morton apparently fused a variety of black musical idioms — ragtime, vocal and instrumental blues, items from the minstrel show repertory, field and levee hollers, religious hymns, and spirituals — with Hispanic music from the Caribbean and white popular songs.