There is no secret that nowadays musicals gain more and more popularity. This fact can be explained not only by the good plot, gorgeous costumes, excellent choreography and fantastic voices of the actors but with the evidence that musicals imply serious social and historic issues. Thus, this essay is devoted to the analysis of a play “Jelly’s Last Jam”.
In fact, “Jelly's Last Jam” is a musical play based on the book of George C. Wolf. Susan Birkenhead has written the song lyrics. Jelly Roll Morton who is actually the main hero of the play, was the author of music along with Luther Henderson. The plot of the musical reveals the real life and music career of Jelly Roll Morton. This person played an outstanding role in the history of American music at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a dramatic period of time as it was marked by introduction of jazz. As this genre of music is traditionally believed to take origin from the African-American culture, the significance of their experience is also revealed in this play.
At the beginning of the play Morton is shown in a state of limbo. He understands that he is not alive anymore and tries to recall his life and sum up his actions and decisions. Another character of the musical, Chimney Man, makes him remember the most sad and unpleasant moments of life. Viewers understand that Morton tried to ignore the most painful events by rebelling the existing rules and moral issues.
The main hero of the musical was born in New Orleans in wealthy and respected family. However, from the early childhood he did not obey the rules his parents were bringing him up. Instead of staying at home he preferred to join to the street life. He was captured by the rhythms of African street music. Once among the poor black people he met a talented Buddy Bolden performing blues. The interest to music turned into passion and devotion which had a dramatic impact on Morton’s life: his mother did not want to share his son with poor street culture and disowned him. Since that time Morton began a new life. The play reveals that it was not an easy road full of difficulties and trials. However, that experience only had strengthened his character and put his name into the list of the most prominent and talented musicians. Moreover, it was Morton who introduced jazz to the world.
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At the mean time the musical revealed serious moral issues the main character faced in his life. He had fame and approval of the public for his music and talent. However, he had suffered all through his life because of pain which appeared due to his mother had disowned him. The refusal of his family caused him a psychological trauma for him which reflected in his rejection to recognize the belonging to black race and his family in particular. He even declared that his black music did not contain any ‘black note’.
It is obvious that the stress which he faced in the childhood determined his future life. Racism and national hatred have grown in his heart and mind. The level of pride was so high that it spoiled his relationship with best friend and beloved woman. He betrayed them and it was a terrible thing because betrayal of the beloved people is considered to be the most awful decision in life.
Later in the play viewers find out that Jazz culture became more popular from year to year. Morton’s popularity partially decreased. He became almost forgotten among musicians and publishers. His life turned upside down and he finished his life as a simple poor tramp. He died in a hospital seriously wounded with a knife.
In the last minutes of his life he recognized the real purpose of life. He understood that his black heritage was worth of appreciation and his best friend and beloved woman deserved sincere attitude and love. He repented in his heart and mind and finally a crowd of people gathered around him to praise his talent. He remained an outstanding jazz composer of all times.
The title of the play “Jelly’s Last Jam” has a symbolic meaning. Jam in a jazz slang means improvisation. From the play it is clear that all Morton’s life was the improvisation. However, the last jam was fatal for him. This fact made viewer think that improvisation is good for talented musician. Thus, it can be applied in life when the performer is as talented as in music. Otherwise, it can lead to fatal final as there is neither good choice in life nor a bad one. There exists only choice and its consequences. On the example of the main hero the following main idea is outlined: every step in life should be done after careful thinking. Family and heritage are the most important issues in life. Only loving and sincere relationships between the closest people can bring the real happiness in life. They are constant while wealth and fame have temporal character.
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Regarding Morton’s destiny, it seems obvious that it was predetermined long before. The fact that he rebelled against his parents and their upbringing made viewer think that he destroyed the normal destiny schedule. He did not obey the rules and happy life turned the back. At the mean time his rejection helped him to follow a path he was devoted to. He experienced challenges and these challenges made him a famous composer. Fame did not come easily to him. He worked hard. He began his career playing at the whorehouse. Step by step he reached the top of the jazz mountain. He made his dream come true.
Thus, the idea of the play is rather controversial. On the one and, it reveals how hard can be a road of the talented musician. On the other hand, it touches many social and morals issues. Along with the revealing of such significant features of life as love, friendship, envy, betrayal, it points out the question of racial inequality.
It is well known that Jelly Roll Morton tried to prove his French heritage. He wanted to find the non-existed traces of his identity. The main hero is the brilliant example of how social attitude towards other people is shaped under the influence of prejudice, stereotypical thinking and personal reasons or even psychological dramas.
The play was nominated for a huge number of awards and won many prizes. This fact proves that the play represents a real masterpiece among the number of musicals. “Jelly’s Last Jam” combined a talented play of actors along with the attention of producer to the smallest details. Song lyrics are united with tap dancing, decorations and costumes convey the atmosphere of the play.
To sum all the said above it should be said that the play “Jelly’s Last Jam” is a real masterpiece among the performances of musical genre. It was so highly appreciated by viewers and critics not only for the brilliant work of producer and actors but also because of the plot and serious moral issues depicted in the story. Jelly Roll Morton experienced a trial in the end of his life when he received a chance to think over his life and attitude to things and human feelings.
The play tried to estimate a character of one of the most outstanding jazz composers in the history of music. It proved the idea that a talented person is partially a crazy one. Moreover, really talented people are not always recognized and appreciated while their life. Real fame comes only after death.
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The musical also revealed that life of prominent artist is always a hard road. However, challenges help to achieve more significant results. Jelly Roll Morton was a really controversial personality. Nevertheless, he is loved as a great musician. People do not have the right to judge him. For all his actions he would response before the Chimney Man.