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  • Transcriptions of Early Recorded Jazz
  • Barry Kernfeld
Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band. Complete Recorded Works in Transcription. Edited by John J. Joyce Jr., Bruce Boyd Raeburn, and Anthony M. Cummings. (Recent Researches in American Music, 73.) (Music of the United States of America, 24.) Middleton, WI: Published for the American Musicological Society by A-R Editions, 2012. [Foreword, p. vii; pref. and acknowledgments, p. ix–xiii; “New Orleans Jazz Styles of the 1920s: Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band,” by Bruce Boyd Raeburn, p. xv–xxxiv; apparatus, p. xxxv–li; score, p. 5–255; crit. notes, p. 256; bibliog., p. 257–60. ISBN 978-0-89579-724-7. $160.00.]

In April and October 1927 Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band recorded eight tracks in New Orleans. These were the band’s only recordings. Even in jazz circles, Sam Morgan is not a household name, like Louis Armstrong or Sidney Bechet or Jelly Roll Morton. But for those who love jazz, the two Morgan sessions are highly regarded as rare and crucial representations of how African American jazz continued in New Orleans after these more famous players left.

This transcription of the complete recorded works of Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band is a model of how the musicological tradition of scholarly critical editions might be applied to jazz. In the 1970s, scholars involved in the emerging intersection of musicology and jazz were hopeful that eventually there would be many such volumes functioning as parallels to editions of Western art music, whether complete works, anthologies of study scores, or critical analyses of particular works. The hopeful thinking was wishful thinking. As Anthony Cummings notes in his preface, the Morgan volume constitutes a major addition to a very small body of such publications: James Dapogny’s edition of the complete piano works of Jelly Roll Morton (Jelly Roll Morton, The Collected Piano Music, ed. James Dapogny [Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press; New York: G. Schirmer, 1982]); Joscelyn Godwin’s edition of the Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines duo “Weatherbird” from 1928 (Schirmer Scores: A Repertory of Western Music, ed. Joscelyn Godwin [New York: Schirmer Books, 1975], 414–22); three Duke Ellington pieces in the Smithsonian Jazz Master-works series edited by Gunther Schuller (Daybreak Express: 1933, Jazz Masterworks Editions, 1 [Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1993], Take the “ A” Train, Jazz Masterworks Editions, 2 [Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1993], and Sepia Panorama: 1940, Jazz Masterworks [End Page 529] Editions, 3 [Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1995]); and Jeffrey Taylor’s edition of selected piano solos by Hines (Earl “Fatha” Hines, Selected Piano Solos, 1928–1941, Recent Researches in American Music, 56; and Music of the United States of America, 15 [Middleton, WI: Published for the American Musicological Society by A-R Editions, 2006]).

This story, however, has another component, of which Cummings is perhaps unaware: the Essentially Ellington and Essential Jazz Editions projects. As director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis conceived and executed the Essentially Ellington project. Since 1995 he has overseen the distribution to American high schools of free copies of more than one hundred big-band transcriptions, with new transcriptions coming out at the rate of about six per year. Most of these transcriptions are the work of David Berger, who had been transcribing for decades before Marsalis came up with his plan for disseminating Duke Ellington’s music to America. The Essentially Ellington Web site proudly announces that by 2010 the institution had distributed more than 90,000 copies to roughly 4,500 schools (see, accessed 20 November 2013). The repertory derives mainly from the recordings of Duke Ellington, but “in 2008, Jazz at Lincoln Center began including non-Ellington repertoire. . . . While the music of Duke Ellington will always be central to EE, the program now explores other important big band arrangers and composers as well—one each year. Featured artists have included Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie” (from the same Web page).

In 1999, in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian established Essential Jazz Editions, published by Warner Bros. (and later acquired by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.). David...


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