Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan (July 8, 1908 - February 4, 1975) was an African-American jazz and rhythm & blues musician, and one of the few such to sell well to mainstream audiences in the post swing music era.

Louis Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas; his father was a local music teacher and bandleader. Jordan started out on clarinet, and also played piano professionally early in his career. Alto saxophone became his main instrument-- although Jordan became even better known as a vocalist with his ebullient personality.

In 1932, Jordan began performing with Chick Webb and Clarence Williams, recording "Honey in the Bee Ball" for Decca Records in 1938. Though this was recorded with The Elks Rendezvous Band, Jordan would go on to play with His Tympany Five, which eventually included Bill Jennings and Carl Hogan on guitar, Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett on piano, Chris Columbus on drums and Dallas Bartley on bass. Jordan played alto sax and sang.

The band's sound was similar to that of Fats Waller and his Rhythm with a touch of the Caribbean sound commonly called "the Spanish tinge".

In the 1940s, Jordan released dozens of hit songs including "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (one of many contenders for the title of "First rock and roll record"), "Blue Light Boogie", "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens", "Buzz Me," "Ain't That Just Like a Woman", and the multi-million seller "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie". One of his biggest hits was "Caldonia", with its energetic punchline, banged out by the whole band, "Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?" After Jordan's success with it, the song was also recorded by Woody Herman in a famous modern arrangement, including a unison chorus by five trumpets. However, many of Jordan's biggest R&B hits were inimitable enough that there were no hit cover versions, a rarity in an era where poppish "black" records were rerecorded by white artists, and where many popular songs were released in multiple competing versions.

Jordan's raucous recordings celebrated African American urban life and were infused with good humor and energy that had a great influence on the development of rock and roll; his music was popular with both blacks and whites. One of Jordan's biggest fans was Chuck Berry, who modelled his musical approach on Jordan's, changing the text from black life to teenage life.

The prime of Louis Jordan's recording career, 1942-1950, was a period of segregation on the radio. Despite this, he was able to score the crossover #1 single "G.I. Jive"/"Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" in 1944, thanks in large part to his performance in the film "Follow the Boys." Jordan also placed another 15+ songs on the national charts. However, Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five was the dominant behemoth on the 1940's R&B charts (or as they were known at the time, the "juke box race" charts. There, Jordan had 18 #1 singles, 54 Top Tens, and an incredible 113 weeks in the #1 position (the all-time runner-up is Stevie Wonder with 70). From July 1946 through May 1947, Jordan scored five consecutive #1 songs, holding the top slot for 44 consecutive weeks.

By the mid 1950s, Jordan's records were not selling as well as they used to and he began switching labels. At Mercury Records, Jordan managed to update his sound with such non-charting songs as "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Salt Pork, West Virginia". After this, however, Jordan's popularity waned and he recorded only for a small following of enthusiasts. He seldom recorded at all after the early 1960s.

Jordan died in Los Angeles, California from a heart attack.

The Broadway show, Five Guys Named Moe was devoted to Jordan's music. The Bear Family label in Germany has released a 9-CD collection of Jordan's work.

The word tympany is an old-fashioned one meaning, "swollen, inflated, puffed-up", etymologically related to timpani, or "kettle drum", but historically separate.



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