Yet another tune to suggest that Chicago was the birthplace of New Orleans jazz. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wolverine Blues” further adds to the confusion by taking the form of a rag rather than a blues. A bit odd, perhaps, considering “Jelly Roll’s” timely contributions to “ragtime.” A-hem.
Chicago was a hub for music publishing throughout the Twentieth century, a fact that often gets neglected by institutions such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. So when Morton’s tune caught on with the public, it inspired the success of a Chicago jazz band called The Wolverines. And what’s more rock & roll than the tradition of lifting band names, like Duran Duran, Steely Dan, They Might Be Giants, Bob Dylan, Elton John, David Bowie and Engelbert Humperdinck? D’YA HEAR ME CLEVELAND?! Anyway, it was in Chicago where Kid Ory worked with Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot “Chili” Peppers and recorded a version of “Wolverine Blues” for the ages (Destination Chicago Jazz, 13).
But featured here is a Kid Ory version from his group’s broadcasted performances in California and it showcases somewhat of an anomaly: around the 5:30 mark, as the band comes back in after a drum break, the musicians do not all agree on the downbeat. The result is disorienting but the band is able to pull it back together within the following few measures. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of performance that is often overlooked is the ability to recover from a mistake. Rather than teaching a binary result, where the performance is either technically perfect or meaningless, the strive for musical perfection should include the embrace of blemishes.
Here is a YouTube video of The Dukes of Dixieland playing "Wolverine Blues" in a tribute to Jelly Roll Morton.
Recommended reading: Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz by John McCusker. Published by University Press of Mississippi.