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  1. OK, this is incredible!! I heard about this little battle years ago, but it’s super cool to be able to read the actual letters they wrote. I LOVE a good deal of music by him, but Jelly Roll talks some major crap! He seems like the kind of guy that with a couple of drinks and people to compete in outlandish exaggerations with would claim he invented the wheel. He’s also well known for this.

    Maybe it was because he felt backed into a corner, but Handy made some pretty sweeping claims in his letter too (“The records of every steamboat, amusement park, dance hall, exclusive club in Memphis…”). He talks about playing almost every society affair, etc. Who knows, maybe he is telling the truth. I’d be more inclined to believe that than any of Jelly Roll’s main claims.

    Jelly Roll’s 1938 recording of King Porter Stomp for the Library of Congress is tied for my favorite recorded piano solo (shared with Hersal Blues by Hersal THomas) – nothing by Handy is even in my top 100 of any category. His band’s recordings ca. 1914 sound a bit sterile to me. BUT, they came out a full decade before Jelly Roll started his. My ears don’t take into account how original they may have seemed to a society that knew almost nothing too far beyond sterilized Victorian era music. To have grown up thinking “authentic black music” was the plantation skits from minstrel shows, then hearing the recordings of James Reece Europe or WC Handy I likely would have been heavily sucked in too. (No doubt the Original Dixieland Jazz Band would have been like lightning).

    I guess that’s what this whole thing is getting at – who could lay claim to creating the music that was sweeping America – and more and more was coming to be the soundtrack for free society’s opposition to fascism.

    This was a cool post!

    1. Great insight, H, much of what I agree with. Take a listen to this W.C. Handy number recorded in London in 1916 which I believe is the first black blues recording anywhere.

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