Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Louis Jordan

I'm not gonna front -- there's tons of people intimately familiar with the life, career and musical output of Louis Jordan. Hitherto, I was NOT amongst them. I KNEW the name but it registered as "old swing dude." And nothing more, shamefully.

But as I was reading the Little Richard biography I came across a segment where Richard mentions his early repertoire once he started gigging in earnest and he mentions Louis Jordan's "Caledonia" a song that currently rings a bell owing to the Rebirth Brass Band's rambunctious version. So I start poking around online, note that he was also responsible for "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead" that I know as well via Rebirth and much effusive praise being tossed his way.

So I order up the JSP box "Louis Jordan And His Tymany Five" - $22 + $3 shipping, wait a couple weeks and it appears in the mailbox this past Monday afternoon. And I must report that as Harry Smith (Anthology of American Folk Music) said of the Magickal Childe edition of the Necronomicon - "This is something you'll like; if you like that kind of thing." Though I must admit that this cat was unusually influential.

This collects his work from 1938 - 1950: 131 selections. There's a lot of great lively, big band numbers that swing like a garden gate in a hurricane, full of the joie de vivre that premium dance music ought to and of course that WAS the primary intent of this much. Lively, upbeat, punchy. So if ya dig pre-bop jazz standards (as does Mrs. W.) you'll find plenty to please ya here.

Then you come across a selection of songs that provide obvious templates for the earliest R&B and rock 'n' roll. Songs like "Caledonia" whose piano parts and sax riffing wound up as essential parts of the rock vocabulary. Here's a video link: 1947's "Early In the Morning" marries boogie woogie piano with loping Calypso-flavored bass resulting in an ensemble sound that Professor Longhair would eventually adapt as his signature piano style (playing the bass parts with his left hand). You'll also find songs like "I Hear You Knockin' But You Can't Come In" and "Let The Good Times Roll" (here's a video link: that were covered or borrowed from to create some of the most iconic songs in the rock 'n' roll canon

Jordan also cut a dizzying amount of songs in a novelty vein that attained such popularity that they became basic parts of popular American culture - songs like "Open the Door Richard" that my often kinda racist old man still will start singing spontaneously - 60 years later. Songs that showed up on popular 50/60's children's show - Captain Kanagaroo, "The Green Grass Grows All Around."

It's really kinda shocking and humbling to realize how pervasive Jordan's influence has been on a wide spectrum of music over a protracted period of time.

I realize that most folks out there already knew that and that I'm late to the party. But I'm glad I finally got here!

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