Jelly's Last Jam

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Jelly's Last Jam
JellysLastJam.jpg
Music Jelly Roll Morton
Luther Henderson
Lyrics Susan Birkenhead
Book George C. Wolfe
Basis The life of Jelly Roll Morton
Productions 1992 Broadway
Awards Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics

Jelly's Last Jam is a musical with a book by George C. Wolfe, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and music by Jelly Roll Morton and Luther Henderson. Based on the life and career of Morton, generally regarded as one of the primary driving forces behind the introduction of jazz to the American public in the early 20th century, it also serves as a social commentary on the African-American experience during the era.

Plot[edit]

The play opens with the recently deceased Morton in a state of limbo, looking back on his life. He is reluctantly guided by the mysterious 'Chimney Man' who forces him to recall the more painful moments of his life when he attempts to ignore or embellish them. Born into an old and wealthy Creole family in New Orleans, the young Morton rebels against his upbringing going into the streets and absorbing the rhythms of the vendors and poor blacks, meeting blues musician Buddy Bolden. When his Creole grandmother discovers his new lifestyle she disowns him. Forced to go on the road, Morton becomes a prominent composer and musician, and the self-proclaimed creator of Jazz. However, his sadness over his family's rejection causes him to stress his Creole ancestry and claim that there are 'no black notes in my song.' Eventually his pride and racism cause him to betray his best friend and the woman he loves. In his later years, as the Jazz culture continues to grow, Morton is largely forgotten and reduced to dealing with crooked music publishers and gangsters, eventually dying of a knife wound in the colored wing of a Los Angeles hospital. At the moment of his death, Morton at last admits to his heritage - "Ain't no black notes in my song/I was wrong/ I was wrong." At this moment, the shadows of the people in his life surround him to congratulate him, and Morton takes his place in history among the other Jazz legends.

Production[edit]

Jelly's Last Jam premiered at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California, in March 1991. Directed by Wolfe, Obba Babatunde played Jelly Roll.[1]

The Broadway production opened at the Virginia Theatre on April 26, 1992 and closed on September 5, 1993 after 569 performances and 25 previews. The musical was directed by Wolfe, choreographed by Hope Clarke, with tap choreography by Gregory Hines and Ted L. Levy, scenic design by Robin Wagner, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, and lighting design by Jules Fisher.[2]

In addition to Gregory Hines and Savion Glover as the older and younger Morton, the cast included Ken Ard, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Ann Duquesnay, Tonya Pinkins, Mary Bond Davis, and Keith David.[2] Phylicia Rashad, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Ben Vereen joined the cast later in the run.

An original cast recording was released by Decca Broadway.

Song list[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1992 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical George C. Wolfe Nominated
Best Original Score Jelly Roll Morton, Luther Henderson and Susan Birkenhead Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Gregory Hines Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Keith David Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Tonya Pinkins Won
Best Direction of a Musical George C. Wolfe Nominated
Best Choreography Hope Clarke Nominated
Best Scenic Design Robin Wagner Nominated
Best Costume Design Toni-Leslie James Nominated
Best Lighting Design Jules Fisher Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Book of a Musical George C. Wolfe Won
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Gregory Hines Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Savion Glover Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Tonya Pinkins Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical George C. Wolfe Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Hope Clarke Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Luther Henderson Won
Outstanding Lyrics Susan Birkenhead Won
Outstanding Costume Design Toni-Leslie James Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Jules Fisher Won

Reception[edit]

John Lahr wrote the introduction to the printed script of Jelly's Last Jam, and noted that the musical "reclaims the gorgeous power of tap dancing as part of musical story telling".[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ De Vries, Hilary. "The Wolfe at the (Stage) Door" Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1991
  2. ^ a b c Wolfe, George C. and Birkenhead, Susan. "Production History" Jelly's Last Jam, Theatre Communications Group, 1993, ISBN 1-55936-069-0, pp. xv-xviii

External links[edit]