Sunday, July 13, 2008

Still believing in Louis Jordan

Its the centennial for the great Louis Jordan (1908-1975) whose influence still can be felt in today's music. The vocalist and his wonderful fan, The Tympany Five, were a bridge between the swing era and jump blues (and rock'n'roll). Songs of his like "Let the Good Times Roll" and Caldonia," remain staples of blues, R&B and noveau swing repertoire. And his music is quite available from a Bear Family deluxe box set of his Decca Recordings, public domain reissues of these same recordings and post-Decca sides. He was also a major cross-over artist and had duets with other pop artists like Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. For a nice concise biography check out the one written by Bill Dahl on

Jordan's last recordings were made for the French Black & Blue label back in 1973, I Believe in Music. A session that included Irv Cox on tenor saxophone, Dave Burrell on piano (and he was on the Mercury New Orleans R&B sessions that included Professor Longhair), bassist John Duke and drummer Archie Taylor. While he would pass in less than two years, these exuberant recordings give no sense that Jordan had lost any of his powers, as these recordings illustrate Bill Dahl's observation about "Jordan's own searing alto sax and street corner jive-loaded sense of humor." This was issued on Evidence some time ago and now available for download from various sources (emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.).

From the bluesy alto that opens the disc with Its a Low Down Dirty Shame, through the closing instrumentals, there is a joy to this music that helps explain his immense popularity and influence on such artists who themselves became legends like B.B. King, Ray Charles and Sonny Rollins. There is more than a heavy dose of Jordan's humorous take on the blues like Three-Handed Woman, and Hard Head. Bill Dahl in his bio of Jordan notes Jordan had become a lounge performer and this affected his selection of material citing mac Davis' tune that gave this album its title as an example, but if Jordan included I Believe in Music, because he was primarily playing playing Vegas lounges, his exuberant performance transcends the lounge repertoire. If this is lounge music, well then let me here more in this vein. Considering how many mediocre renditions of Caldonia are out there in the blues world (and I point to Gatemouth Brown, Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins as easy examples), it is refreshing to hear the master on his last recording of this tune, including his jivey rap in the middle. Almost every rendition of this song lacks the simple joy of Jordan's ebullient approach. Then there is the lively rendition of a party that got out of hand on Saturday Night Fish Fry. Further display of his marvelous bluesy alto saxophone is heard on Red Top and Take the A Train. These thirty-five year old performances sound lively and fresh today and make much of what is called blues sound pretty pallid today.

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