Jelly’s Last Jam
Production still from Jelly’s Last Jam, 1992
George C. Wolfe (Playwright)
1 April – 5 September, 1992
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 mixed-race Creole family in New Orleans, the young Morton rebels against his upbringing by 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. 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.