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Snap Your Fingers and Clap: How 3 Musicians Inspired Each Other

Updated on March 13, 2009
"Guitar Piano" by Cyber Integra
"Guitar Piano" by Cyber Integra
Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton 1885 - 1941
Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton 1885 - 1941
Davy Graham at the Kings Head London February 10, 2006
Davy Graham at the Kings Head London February 10, 2006
Stephen James "Steve" Howe: April 8,1947-
Stephen James "Steve" Howe: April 8,1947-

The Finger Breaker, Fingerbuster, & Clap

Jelly Roll Morton, was one of the first jazz musicians of his era to take composing music seriously. Though he was very boastful... he played with a passion, talent, and a flashy style that could back-up whatever came out of his mouth. Jelly Roll's musical legacy has survived and continues to inspire many unlikely musicians. Jelly Roll's "Finger Buster" (aka Fingerwrecker, The Finger Breaker) has been passed though many music styles, compositions, and genrés. Each artist has touched it with his own style, and has definely made it his own. But when you listen to all three songs; one thing is undeniable... Its origin and roots are definitely Jolly Roll Morton.

Jelly Roll Morton sat down to record piano solos in 1938, his pent-up grandiose showmanship was ready to errupt out of him as he placed his fingers on the keys. What burst out of Jelly Roll's fingers was a composition that sounded part rinky-dink piano, part ragtime and all lighting fury jazz. The end result, according to the unmodest Morton, was the lightning-quick "The Finger Breaker" (aka Finger Buster or Fingerwrecker) that was supposed to be one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano. What it really amounts to is a flashy display of Jelly Roll's technical dexterity. What it has become is sort of a test for modern musicians to prove their virtuosity.

In the 60s Brittish guitarist Davy Graham recorded "Fingerbuster" which originally appeared on his "The Holly Kaleidoscope" LP. Davy had revamped Jelly Roll's Fingerwrecker to fit his guitar style. A style that innovated flat picking a guitar while finger-picking at the same time. Giving the listener the illusion that more than one person was playing. Davey's "Fingerbuster" was a tribute to the old musician on the street days, a raggy up-tempo style of picking, that was a tip of the hat to the birth of jazz.

Steve Howe's solo acoustic tune, entitled "Clap," during his years with Yes, has always been a concert crowd favorite, "Clap" was heavily influenced by the Davy Graham's "Fingerbuster," and inspired by Howe's oldest son Dylan. "Clap" was written to celebrate the birth of Dylan and the name of the song comes from the baby's attempts to clap.

"Jelly Roll" Morton: Self proclaimed inventor of jazz
"Jelly Roll" Morton: Self proclaimed inventor of jazz
Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton
Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton

"Jelly Roll" Morton

Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe aka "Jelly Roll" Morton (September 20, 1885 or October 20, 1890 – July 10, 1941) was a virtuoso pianist, a bandleader, and a composer who some call the first true composer of Jazz music. Morton was a colorful character who liked to generate publicity for himself by bragging. His business card referred to him as the "Creator of Jazz and Swing".

It is truly hard to categorize Morton's music, because his influences were vast while growing up in such a cultural rich enviroment. Being part Creole, and not clearly black or white in Louisiana was tough to be. Prejudice came from both ends of the spectrum. He found acceptance with the help of his musical abilities. Even though he did not really "invent jazz" or fathered the blue, Morton did invent a "Jelly Roll" style all his own.

By the by "Jell Roll" was slang for a sex act, at the time.

There are three major genrés to Jelly Roll's style, Blues, Stomps, and Spanish Tinge; all of which he infused with his personal touch. The Morton style of blues were usually simply stated, but had an underlying complexity in their structure. The Stomps, which are a form of ragtime, are named for the reaction the music gets from both performers and listeners. There was a lot of Latin influences, in New Orleans as well, while Morton was growning up. So it would be only natural that Morton's music would have some of the spice of a tango or the fiery influence of Spanish Tinge.

Of course, Morton's ego, and pride would still shine through in much of his music. Especially since several of Jelly Roll's songs were musical tributes to himself, including "Whinin' Boy," "The Original Jelly-Roll Blues," and "Mister Jelly Lord." During the Big Band era, Morton's "King Porter Stomp," (which Morton had written decades earlier)  was a big hit for Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman, and had become a standard covered by most swing bands of that time. Morton also claimed to have written some tunes that were copyrighted by others, including "Alabama Bound" and "Tiger Rag."

Morton was a key figure in the birth and development of jazz because he had so many talents: pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. Jazz historian Orrin Keepnews has referred to him as “one of the handful of Atlases upon whose shoulders rests the entire structure of our music.”Morton’s unique, innovative style combined varying musical strands of blues, stomps, and ragtime, plus French and Spanish influences into jazz at its most formative stage. Morton helped define the colorful, vibrant jazz idiom in the Storyville district of New Orleans.

While Morton was helping to shape the newborn jazz scene with his Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong was emerging as the preeminent jazz soloist with his sessions in Chicago. Together, they gave birth to the Jazz Age and the Swing Era, which has benefited American musical history and the nation’s culture to this day. From Jelly Morton came a lineage of great, jazz pianist-bandleaders, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Thelonius Monk.

Two Broadway shows have featured his music, "Jelly Roll "and "Jelly's Last Jam."  Gregory Hines won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his work as the title role in "Jelly's Last Jam."

In 2000, Morton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under Early Influence, and in 2005 Morton was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jim Hession plays Jelly Roll Morton's "The Finger Breaker"

Davy Graham: the early days
Davy Graham: the early days
David Michael Gordon "Davy" Graham:  November 26, 1940–December 15, 2008
David Michael Gordon "Davy" Graham: November 26, 1940–December 15, 2008

Davy Graham

David Michael Gordon Graham, known as Davy Graham (November 26, 1940– December 15, 2008), was a British guitarist and though he never achieved or sought real fame and fortune, his influence as one of most brilliant and innovative acoustic guitarists, reverberates through just about every musical genré. Davy Graham enjoyed a long career as England's greatest, and often over-looked, guitarist.

.Davy's music was a such a blend of so many worldly styles, that when asked what he conciders himself? Davey replied, ‘I’m a traveller really, I would die as a person if I stayed in place for more than a year, I like to change my impressions and refresh my personality. My roots are in my music, and in my friends, that’s enough…” Graham was inspired by a range of influences, including jazz, classical, Indian and Arabic music. Many believed that it was due to Graham's unusual family background... his mother was from South America...his father was from a remote Scottish island and the blending of the blues that Davy had access to during the time he worked at the Library; that may have influenced his sound.

Graham's outside of the box tuning and his incredible dexterity on his acoustic guitar inspired a wide range of artists. His 1962 folk classic song "Anji" was covered by Simon and Garfunkel on their 1966 album "Sounds of Silence."

"Davy started unusual alternate tunings for guitars that really caught on," according to Dick Boak, the artist relations manager at C.F. Martin & Co., the famous U.S. guitar maker. "He influenced Paul Simon, of course, and John Renbourn, and Laurence Juber, and many others. Just about anybody who has anything remotely to do with finger-style guitar has to in some way pay tribute to Davy."

"Probably England's greatest guitarist" -Paul Simon

Graham died of a seizure in his London home after a long suffering battle with lung cancer.

Davey Graham's "Fingerbuster" performed by Unknown Guitarist

Steve Howe the Yes days
Steve Howe the Yes days
Steve Howe of Yes, The Syndicats, Bodast, Tomorrow, Asia, GTR, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe  and over a dozen solo albums.
Steve Howe of Yes, The Syndicats, Bodast, Tomorrow, Asia, GTR, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and over a dozen solo albums.

Steve Howe

Stephen James "Steve" Howe (April 8, 1947- ) is guitarist best known for his work with the progressive rock group Yes after replacing Peter Banks in 1970. But Steve is really more than a guitarist... the man can play anything with strings and/or frets... He has also been in the bands: The Syndicats, Bodast, Tomorrow, Asia and GTR, just to name a few. Steve has over a dozen solo albums under his belt as well.

Steve has listed many musical influences, like Chet Atkins, Jimmy Bryant, Django Reinhardt and Les Paul & Mary Ford. During his years with the prog-rock supergroup Yes. Steve proved his guitar prowess by blending almost seamlessly the musical styles that have influenced him. No one else has experimented as successfully in mixing blues, jazz, classical, surf, and fusion so beautifully.

"Clap" by Steve Howe

Talent and Technique

 Another common thread these three talented men have is the love of many types of music. Different music styles that these men could blend together or add their unique touches to. These guys have a gift of music that even the most talented musician would have to admit transcends the normal scope of music.

They all have a techical mastery of their instruments, an unimaginable  dexterity, and a passion for their art that reaches beyond the bound of just practicing a lot.

None of them limited themselves into studying only one genré. They found beauty and understanding in all forms of their art.


Submit a Comment

  • ixwa profile image


    9 years ago

    I have just written a historical narrative on jazz. I am impressed with your hub for the way you have written it. It was like reading the blurbs of these artist. I play most of them in my Internet Radio Station called FASTTRACKS found on It's cool to have to learn about some new artists.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    How do you stop giant toes? Put giant table legs in the way maybe? or possibly invent a giant toe sucker? I like what I've read, that comes out of that brain of yours. I hope it doesn't shut-off to soon.

  • blondepoet profile image


    9 years ago from australia

    St.James u bet if you could do it on a professional basis wouldn't that be dandy.There must be something,somewhere as you really know your stuff and you do great stories.I can't understand why your score is not higher.Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    I know what you mean about your brain not switching off mine too is always going, If it's not thinking of ideas for stories, it's still thinking all sorts of things.It's like I read C.C Riter's hub about his fetish for toes and I dreamt that night that there was an invasion of killer toes after me. These huge overpowering appendages that were knocking over buildings and trees. Hahaha truly all this has to affect a girl's brain you know...:)

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    Well BlondePoet, I usually have 3 different stories in the works, as of late each take about 8 hours of research, and a few hours to write. After they feel like they are done I post them. This trifecta was more happenstance than anything. But I do spend a lot of time writing.

    I just enjoy it too much and my brain doesn't seem to shut-off. When I write poetry I can 2 and as many as 8 in one session.

    I guess I need to do this on a more professional basis, material is never an issue.

  • blondepoet profile image


    9 years ago from australia

    St.James St.James St.James do you write while you are sleeping LMAO.I thought I would check to see if you put out another hub and there is not one but three to go through.Aghhhhhh

    Seriously you must put a lot of time in, how many hours a day do you write??? This is yet another super story to be expected from you.Fair dinkum you amaze me!!! I am in awe.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    RonGould thank you! Glad you're already familiar with these 3 masters. It's taken me awhile trying to figure out how to go about this properly. I've been thinking about it for a good month now.

  • rongould profile image


    9 years ago

    I knew of all three musicians from my own musical efforts but I had never put together the connection. Awesome! I am really impressed by you picking up on it and showing us how they all interrelated. I learned something new today and thank you for the lesson.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    I will try to JO... couldn't you just copy and paste the url? Wouldn't that be school computer accessible? I would love for students to hear Jelly Roll Morton, Davy Graham and Steve Howe. Right there you have 3 men who have shaped today's music.

  • joarline profile image


    9 years ago from Skull Valley, Az.

    Hey, St. James,

    Excellent work (this is your music teacher speaking). I would give you an A+ on this project, and require you to give a speech on it in front of the whole school. It is too bad that my band students cannot access this on school computers. Is it possible to send this as an e-mail? Thanks, JO

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    BrianS... Learning to play"Clap" would be quite a feather in their caps. I have a friend up in the Northern states that plays it, but he also transposes Bach into guitar music. I'm sure with a little practice they'll get it

  • BrianS profile image

    Brian Stephens 

    9 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

    My grandsons are both big on guitar playing so I am going to send them this and see if they can learn to play the 'clap' by watching the video. As for me, I wouldn't have a clue.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    Cris A... I'm happy I could introduce you to something new. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Mighty Mom... these guy aren't Clapton... but they have all blaze a trail in music. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

  • Mighty Mom profile image

    Susan Reid 

    9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

    Very, very cool. What you might call the antithesis of "slow hand" eh?

  • Cris A profile image

    Cris A 

    9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    What a great read this was! I have never heard of all the musicians here before so I'd have to thank you for sharing their passion, their art and of course their music. Now I'm off to see Fingerbuster! thanks :D


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