Jelly“Jazz music is to be played sweet.  Soft, plenty rhythm.  When you have your plenty rhythm with your plenty swing it becomes beautiful.” 

I was thinking about Jelly Roll Morton’s famous comment while listening to some new compact discs by well-known improvisers.  I would like every improvising musician to commit Morton’s Law to memory, and these codicils as well:

Loud is only good if you also know how to play softly.  Imitate Jo Jones. 

“As fast as you can” is only permitted to those players who can play music at a stately pace — and not just the opening two choruses of a ballad that is then abruptly changed into double-time.  Internalize Ben Webster and Bobby Hackett.

It takes a good deal of courage to be concise.  Are all those notes necessary?  Study Jimmy Rowles.

The spaces between phrases are as important as the phrases themselves.  Consider Count Basie. 

A solo should be more than a string of glittering phrases, or a series of Special Effects.  A beautiful melody, played with the proper emotion, might be more satisfying than the most ornate elaborations on it.  Recall Benny Morton.

If the crowd applauds a performance, do they know why?  And should they have done so?  Ask Henry “Red” Thoreau.

6 responses to “MORTON’S LAW

  1. Words to live by. Rules to play by.

    Are the non-Morton quotes yours?


  2. “Yes,” he said shyly. “I made ’em up myself from about forty years of listening to the best music and music that said it was the best . . .” his voice trailed off.

  3. I salute you. And I plan to quote you.

  4. If only the jazz police would/could enforce these laws…

  5. Michael Palmer

    “Music is the space between the notes” – Claude Debussy

    “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!”

    – Arthur Schnabel (1882-1951)

  6. Ida Melrose Shoufler

    Your blog made me so proud that my father Frank Melrose, studied and learned so much from Morton, When I listen to Morton I hear my dad, Thank you NM

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