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Review of How Jelly Roll Morton 
Invented Jazz

winter_how jelly roll morton invented jazzHow Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz
by Jonah Winter; 
illus. by Keith Mallett
Primary   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
6/15   978-1-59643-963-4   $17.99

Much like jazz itself, Winter has created a book filled with ebbs and flows, rhythm and rhyme, darkness and light, shadow and sunshine. Opening with a dreamy spread set in a dimly lit New Orleans with the city on the right-hand page and a small house on the left, the hushed second-person narration begins, “Here’s what could’ve happened if you were born a way down south in New Orleans, in the Land of Dreams a long, long time ago.” Facts about Morton’s life are sprinkled into the gentle prose: a stint in jail — as a baby! — when his godmother was arrested (he would not stop crying until the incarcerated men “commenced to singing”); a disapproving great-grandmother; and later the audacious claim, by Jelly Roll himself, that he invented jazz. Textured acrylic-on-canvas illustrations are punctuated by musical notes that create rivers and roads of music, allowing readers to imagine the beats, blues, and marvelous improvisation that were such a big part of the birth of jazz. Performers in silhouette — cornet-playing Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll at different ages — add to the dreamy feel. An informative author’s note provides some (age-appropriate) background information and is written in the same loose conversational style as the book. This is a beautiful tribute to one of the parents of jazz (sorry, but Morton can’t claim sole ownership!) — and a fitting introduction for a new generation of jazz lovers.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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