The New York Times is reporting the death of Bob Greene, an amateur pianist who never sought to go professional, but ended up making a living out of playing the music of jazz and ragtime pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.
“If there were such a thing, Greene would hold the Jelly Roll Morton Chair of Music at an Ivy League college,” Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker’s longtime jazz critic, wrote in The Atlantic in 1998.
Such was Mr. Greene’s devotion to Morton, a swaggering, seminal figure in jazz — pianist, bandleader and “the first important jazz composer,” according to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz — that he viewed his task as not simply to play Morton’s music also but to recreate it, performing and recording the music as Morton himself did.
“He gets inside Morton’s music,” Mr. Balliett wrote.
Greene, the son of a textiler, was introduced to Morton’s music around the time that Morton died in 1941 by way of Benny Goodman. A teacher, writer, and documentarian, Greene was set to join Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968.
Following Kennedy’s assassination, Greene decided to devote his life to serving as a performing ambassador for his idol Jelly Roll Morton. Until recently, Greene traveled the world with his band “The World of Jelly Roll Morton” performing hits of the 20s and 30s and other New Orleans heroes like Bunk Johnson and Louis Armstrong.
Here’s Greene solo in 2006. Trust me.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.