'Jelly Roll' Morton didn't get his nickname from a bakery
Lynn Hummel's recent column entitled "That amazing bakery aroma" brought back a few memories in regards to the smell of bakeries, breweries and mother's homemade bread.
It also reminded me of the smell of Milwaukee some 26 years ago when one of my best assignments ever was to write a story about the Brewery Workers Local No. 9, which is affiliated with the United Autoworkers, Agricultural Implement, and Aerospace Workers International Union, aka the UAW.
The assignment involved flying to Milwaukee from Detroit and touring the Pabst and Miller Breweries, as well as a malt house and a yeast house, and allowed for a balanced degree of beer sampling.
I wrote the story paying a lot of homage to olfaction and included the catchy fact "my nose knows it's in Milwaukee" in the lead.
Without hanging out on the streets or endangering their souls by getting too worldly, a minimal amount of googlin' or you tubin' around the world wide web will easily educate readers on what streetwise musicians and street smart aficionados of musical lingo mean by the "sweet smell of jelly roll."
When the cool cat pioneers of American jazz, blues and hillbilly music in the first several decades of the 20th Century sang about "jelly rolls" in their more risqué songs (that provided the racier lyrics for those genres of pure Americana music) they were no more singing about baked goods than were the later hip cat beatniks of the 50's or hippies of the 60's talking about baked goods when they mentioned having "no bread."
Jelly Roll Morton was named after a good feeling, but it was not the "feel-good factor of baked goods" as opined in Mr. Hummel's column.
Bessie Smith sang "...a sweet jelly roll is so fine, so fine -- it's worth a lot of dough -- the boys tell me so..."
Lonnie Johnson sang "He's a Jelly Roll Baker ... it's just a gift from my soul to bake good jelly roll..."
When Jimmie Rodgers or Jimmie Davis sang about "jelly roll," or when Bo Carter sang (in his song "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me") "...don't put no more sugar in your jelly roll you see ... your jelly roll is plenty sweet for me..," these great icons of American music were not literally singing about oven-baked jelly rolls or biscuits.
The same holds true in the name vein regarding old or new monikers for blues and jazz singers and saloon entertainers with names like "Long John, Muffin, Cupcake and Honeybun" -- they simply were not talkin' baked goods.
Musicians are still singin' about it today. Hot Tuna is a blues band that started just before the last quarter of the 20th Century and still knocks around some.
` Their stage name has similar origins to Mr. Morton's stage name. When Hot Tuna sings their lyrics to "Hot Jelly Roll Blues" they sing "Jelly roll, jelly roll -- sittin' on a fence -- if you don't get it -- you ain't got no sense.."
And they are wild about their "jelly roll" that makes "blind men see" and "lame men walk" and even a "grand mama married her youngest son..."
Pretty powerful stuff, that "jelly roll." -- Ted Fiskevold, Detroit Lakes