Jivin’ With Jordan

15 Dec

Jordan2  Jordan4

Jordan3  Jordan1

Yes, it’s a box set of the work of Louis Jordan and I’m damned if I know why this man’s music isn’t better known and celebrated!

Covering the period 1939 – 1951, the set contains 102 tracks and has been assembled by the excellent Proper Records (PROPERBOX47) with real care. If only all vintage compilations were done with such attention to detail. The package also includes a 40 page illustrated booklet which not only has a full and detailed essay by the compiler, Joop Visser, about Jordan’s music and career but also full details of the musicians, when and where the recordings were made and the catalogue numbers for the labels on which they were released originally. Clearly a labour of love.

If you’re not familiar with Louis Jordan the music is an uptempo blend of swing, jazz, boogie-woogie, ‘jump blues’ and R&B – the inter-twined roots of what would emerge a few years later as very early rock’n’roll.  If you were really inventive you might find a kind of prehistoric rap in some of the tracks which are effectively spoken as much as sung.  Many of the tracks were credited to ‘Louis Jordan and His Tymphany Five – so a fairly slim, flexible outfit (compared to the Big Bands) comprising trumpet, sax, piano (stand up)  bass and drums – with variants which might include new-fangled electric guitar or another sax player.

During the period anthologised, Louis Jordan was ridiculously popular  – not only in the Black music charts (segregated in those days) but also crossing over into the white-dominated pop charts of the day. And he wasn’t simply a bandleader, vocalist and composer, he also starred in films and early prototypes of music vidos (so is surprisingly well represented on YouTube if you want to look). The booket states that between 1942 and 1950, Jordan had No. 1 records in the R&B charts for 113 weeks (nearly a third of ALL black top-hit records for 8 years). Eat your heart out Michael Jackson.

Apparently he is still the fifth most successful black recording artists OF ALL TIME despite just having eight years at the top. Respect. Why is this man not honoured in the same breath as Duke Ellington?

The majority of the songs are high-energy tracks for dancing and the lyrics are good humoured, occasionally fantastical, occasionally risque (but not really bawdy) and slick.

So how come I came to buy it? Well, the answer is that my son’s school is very strong on music – and big band music in particular and one of the pieces in their repertoire is the Jordan track ‘Choo Choo Ch’Boogie’ and it’s that which first caught my interest. Next I noted that the track ‘Caldonia’, covered by everyone from James Brown to The Band, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison  and B.B. King was written by Jordan (actually it’s credited to his wife, Fleecie Moore, because Jordan was in dispute with his publishers and used her as a front).(Fleecie appears to have been a pretty hard-bitten character – reportedly stabbing her husband on two occasions).

The third track that hooked me you might dismiss as a novelty number and not written by Jordan anyway – but  hey, ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’ was popularised by him and covered by The Muppets no less! and  it really swings out! The fourth  track that convinced me to buy it  (‘Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby’) featured in a Tom and Jerry Cartoon! For younger readers of this blog, Tom and Jerry (the prototypes for Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons) were a hyper-violent cartoon cat and mouse who were enormously popular until they became politically incorrect. They are still very funny but you have to make allowances for the culture in which they were written. The  occasional racial stereotyping is not acceptable today.

The same could be said about some of the tracks on this collection too: ‘The Chicks I Pick are Slender, Tender and Tall’ and ‘What’s the Use of Getting Sober?’ and ‘You’re Much Too Fat (And That’s That)’  are probably sufficient to get banned from some universities today!

Of particular interest though are the ones which herald the new dawn of rock’n’roll, in particular ‘Reet Petite and Gone’ (which led to Berry Gordy’s ‘Reet Petite’ that Jacky Wilson popularised in 1957) and ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’. This comes in two parts (both sides of an old 78 prm record) and, as Wikipedia says “the distinctive comical adventure narrative is strikingly similar to the style later used by Bob Dylan in his classic “story” songs like  ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ and ‘Tombstone Blues’. That’s true but the more obvious successor to Louis Jordan was  Chuck Berry (just listen especially ‘No Particular Place to Go’).

Louis Jordan carried on recording (into the early 1970s)  before his death in 1975 – but this collection represents the high point of his career – and what a high point it was.

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