Jelly Roll Way Out West

—Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton,
Seattle, WA, August 1920—

Savvy two-bit hustler, piano shark,
self-styled inventor of jazz, Jelly Roll
parlays a Seattle hunch, high-stakes
craps, 12th and Main. He plies the West
Coast, swaggering with flashy diamond
front tooth and penchant for hot numbers.
His bankroll growing bigger. His piano
always doing the trick: Come on,
baby, hike that dress. Show me the dance!
Crackerjack tough, Jelly rolls 11
straight licks, rides a $10 start bid
past two grand. Scoops up the dice
in Creole hands like it’s a rag
he’s fixing to lay down for folks
at the Regent Hotel. For lumberjacks,
fishermen. The high society type
Seattleites slumming. Red hot dice
sing Yes to the New Orleans ace
in knife-sharp suit, spit-polish shoes,
trading on a mark’s attention, conjuring
a player’s hoodoo, gangster mojo.
The stamp’s on them: shipyard dupes,
off-duty raw recruits from Fort Lewis
on the prowl. These rowdy plungers
want to bring him down. Suave braggart,
Jelly flirts with gals showing off
their fine Saturday night strut.
Whistles that seductive stride riff.
It’s his salute to the gambler’s booty,
cocky dealer who shakes the bones
spinning as everyone bets on Jelly’s luck,
on how long can this wild shot last.

—James Gurley, Seattle, WA