you sat right down at a black piano and you commenced to play …”
There’s a new picture book biography on shelves, Jonah Winter’s How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, June 2015), illustrated by Keith Mallett (pictured right). The book opens in a tremendously inviting way:
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.
Let’s say you had a godmother, and she put a spell on you because she was a voodoo queen. …
Voodoo queen? Hoo boy, my attention is piqued.
Author and illustrator go on to lay out the musician’s early life and rise to fame, as well as his contributions to jazz. They address the whole who-invented-jazz conundrum—“And, to tell the truth of it, maybe Mister Jelly Roll didn’t invent jazz, not exactly, ’cause it took a lot of cooks to make that stew … but he sure did spread it around the towns”—and in an informative closing author’s note [“How Jelly Roll Morton (Might Have) Invented Jazz”], Winter goes into more detail about this and what distinguished Morton from his fellow musicians. Robin Smith captured the book well in the Horn Book’s review: “Much like jazz itself, Winter has created a book filled with ebbs and flows, rhythm and rhyme, darkness and light, shadow and sunshine.”
This is Mallett’s first picture book, though he’s been an artist and designer for more than thirty years. His acrylic paintings in this bio, bustling with energy and filled with beguiling shadows, are rich and reverent. He’s visiting today with some art (sans text) and early sketches from the book — and to talk a bit about his work. He even shares a bit of other art (not from this biography). I thank him for visiting.