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Louis Jordan (1908 - 1975)
From Big Band Swing To Rock and Roll

 

 

Louis Jordan was one of the most important figures in the developing stages of rock and roll music;

  • Jordan came out of the New York big band swing scene in late 1930Ís
  • Leading his own band by 1942 playing a style called jump blues. Example is Caldonia (below)
  • Jump blues was the bridge between big band swing and rhythm & blues (R&B) of the late 40Ís
  • R&B of the late 40Ís emerged into Rock & Roll
  • Louis Jordan; My all-time favorite

    There are a few others but if I had to pick one it would be Jordan hands down. He had it all covered; he was an energetic entertainer who wrote great catchy songs loaded with wit and humor, sang, band leader, played the alto saxophone.

    Even though the tenor is my favorite and the one I play, Louis Jordan’s approach to alto was like a tenor. Another alto player like this is Earl Bostic and later Edgar Winter. By that I mean it sounded big and ripping and he made it wail. Most other guys were playing this raunchy style on the tenor.

    If you’re new to the sax or just like any kind of swing jazz, jump blues, R&B, and rock & roll music then you gotta love Louis Jordan. He was a true inovator and was a big influence on R&B and rock & roll. A few other artists that credit Louis Jordan as a major influence are BB King, Van Morrison, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles to name a few. That’s some pretty good company!

    Louis Jordan's best known song is probably Caldonia, unfortunately it’s one of those songs that has been beaten to death because so many have recorded it. Still, the reason for that happening in the first place is that it’s such a great song. Caldonia’s opening horn lines are so natural and perfectly fitting to the walking blues shuffle the rhythm section is playing that I don’t even remember ever having to “learn” those lines, you literally just sing them out of your horn. You can hear this in many of his songs…. just natural, sing-able, perfect horn lines.
    louisjordan photo
    Check these out (all Louis Jordan compositions);

    Caldonia
    Choo Choo Ch’Boogie

    Louis Jordan must have been the most prolific songwriter of the genre in his time. They didn’t call him “king of the juke box” for nothing… He had 57 hits on the R&B charts between 1942 and 1951.

    Here’s a couple of them;

    Knock Me a Kiss
    Saturday Night Fish Fry

    A few of Louis Jordan's contemporaries who were also hitting the charts were Wynonie Harris, Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima. These guys were also great contributors to this very important and innovative musical period of the 40’s.

    Louis Prima: one of the few whites that made it to the R&B charts, and, he was writing songs that black singers were covering and charting as well. This was years before he went to Vegas and had a very successful career as one of the most popular acts there.

    Another interesting fact about Prima was that a song he wrote in the mid 30’s Sing, Sing, Sing was recorded by Benny Goodman and remains as one of the most definitive songs of the swing era.

    Cab Calloway had a similar song writing style as Jordan, very humorus and witty. (The hi-de-ho guy) The big difference with these two was their sound; Jordan usually worked with 5 or 6 guys and Calloway had the full big band complete with rhythm, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sections…you can say he had one foot in the swing sound and one in the R&B sound.

    Wynonie Harris was one of the more popular “blues shouters” that was singing jump blues music. Two others that come to mind are Roy Brown and Big Joe Turner (who recorded Shake Rattle & Roll long before Bill Haley). Harris released the Roy Brown song Good Rocking Tonight in early’48.

    This version recorded by Wynonie Harris is considered by some to be the first rock and roll song. There’s a couple other songs that come into this argument which will probably go on forever but that’s not my point here. Either way, Harris’s version of the song is right there as one of the very first songs that started this revolution called rock and roll. Roy Brown’s version recorded just months earlier didn’t have the same effect because it just didn’t rock. Harris’s was done with a much stronger back beat which emphasised the 2nd and 4th beat of the bar, complete with hand claps to really drive it home.

    Good Rocking Tonight


    This was 1948 and it was coming from an R&B artist and it made such an impact that everyone else wanted to record a “rocking’ song. The movement was fast and furious and people wanted to call it something other than just R&B because it was different,… hello rock and roll!

    By the mid 50’s the new rock and roll era was in full swing and this created some problems for Jordan so he re-recorded many of his hits of the 40’s that had been done before the new rock sound came to be. To add the new flavor producer and arranger Quincy Jones was called in and the rocking guitar of Mickey Baker and the great tenor saxophonist Sam “the man” Taylor.

    What a difference a decade makes
    ;

    Caldonia - mid 40’s
    Caldonia - mid 50’s

    Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens - 40's
    Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens - 50's


This is my favorite era of music… so much energy, humor, and best of all…
The hardest rocking sax solos ever!

ciao for now and Rock On!

JF

Swing Meets Rock & Roll
Rockin' Tunes,
Wailin' Sax

Little Big Band Sound
Swing With a Rock & Roll Attitude

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