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Louis Jordan & his Tympany Five

Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie: His 27 Finest, 1939-50

RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4374

 

Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie (1946)

Keep A-Knockin’ (1939)

Five Guys Named Moe (1942)

Ration Blues (1943)

Is You Is Or Is you Ain’t My Baby (1943)

Mop! Mop! (1944)

G.I. Jive (2:57)

My Baby Said “Yes” [with Bing Crosby] (1944)

Buzz Me (1945)

Caldonia (1945)

Don’t Worry ’Bout That Mule (1945)

Stone Cold Dead In The Market [with Ella Fitzgerald] (1945)

Petootie Pie [with Ella Fitzgerald] (1945)

Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’ (1946)

Ain’t That Just Like A Woman? (1946)

That Chick’s Too Young To Fry (1946)

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens (1946)

Let The Good Times Roll (1946)

Texas and Pacific (1946)

Jack, You’re Dead (1946)

Boogie Woogie Blue Plate (1947)

Barnyard Boogie (1947)

Early In The Mornin’ (1947)

Run, Joe (1947)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside [with Ella Fitzgerald] (1949)

Saturday Night Fish Fry (1949)

You Rascal, You [with Louis Armstrong] (1950)

I have never been able to enthuse about Louis Jordan as much as some of my friends have. He clearly had energy and humour and was a capable alto player. But much of his music was reductively formulaic and I always felt that the air of spontaneity on many of his recordings was thoroughly rehearsed. Nor did I take to his explicit commercialism, while understanding why a black musician in America should choose to go down that route. Yet, though never a ‘fan’ of Jordan’s music, I can see that he had some importance as a figure in Black Music.

Some of what is most characteristic of Jordan’s musical manner derives from the more commercial side of Fats Waller. He has something, at least, of Waller’s impudent humour and, as Alyn Shipton points out ( A New History of Jazz, 2002, pp.596-7) one of Jordan’s trademark effects, in which passages in his vocals were answered by ‘shout-backs’ from the rest of his band, is derived from Waller tracks such as ‘Stop Pretending’ and ‘Hold Tight’. Waller provides, I suppose, the obvious point of comparison for Jordan, but Jordan’s humour and vivacity feel rather artificial by the side of Waller’s. Behind Waller’s clowning there was a sophisticated musician – so much so that I remember Max Harrison calling him “the saddest case of ill-spent talent in jazz”. The same could not, remotely, be said of Louis Jordan.

Looking at the personnel of Jordan’s various bands, as represented on this disc, one finds the names of a few jazz musicians of quality, such as pianist/organist Wild Bill Davis, bop trumpeter Idrees Suleiman and, perhaps most surprising, drummer Shadow Wilson, who would go on to play with musicians like Tadd Dameron, Lee Konitz and Thelonious Monk. For the most part, however, members of Jordan’s Tympany Five, if they went on to make names of their own, did so in the world of R & B, Urban Blues or Rock and Roll – to take just one representative example, tenor saxophonist Freddie Simon (heard here on ‘Caldonia’ and ‘Buzz Me’) went on to work with T-Bone Walker and the blues singer Charles Brown amongst others.

Though Jordan played alto and soprano saxes and took occasional vocals with the Chick Webb band between 1936 and 1938, when he began to lead bands of his own the music he played was only on the fringes of jazz. He was clearly a great entertainer, always willing to give his audience what they wanted. Many of his singles were considerable ‘hits’. Indeed he was nicknamed, presumably by publicists, ‘The King of the Jukebox’. Between 1942 and 1951, seventeen of his recordings reached No.1 in the American R & B chart (often known as the ‘Race’ chart) and many of them stayed there for several weeks. Thirteen of those recordings are included in this compilation – ‘Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie’, ‘Ration Blues’, ‘Mop! Mop!’, ‘G.I. Jive’, ‘Buzz Me’, ‘Caldonia’, ‘Don’t Worry ’Bout That Mule’, ‘Stone Cold Dead In The Market’, ‘Ain’t That Just Like A Woman?’, ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’, ‘Texas and Pacific’, ‘Jack, You’re Dead’ and ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’.

In short, if one wants to know what was popular with mass black audiences in the 1940s, Louis Jordan is an excellent guide. If you want to know where Chuck Berry and Bill Haley came from, musically speaking – Jordan is, again, a large part of the answer.

Perhaps I have grown less demanding – taste-wise – in my old age, since I find that I have slightly more patience with Jordan’s music now than I did when I was younger. I find the bounce and jump of his playing more bearable nowadays. I remember noticing, some years ago, that whenever people wrote about Jordan and his music they almost always used the adjective ‘irrepressible’. I am not sure that anybody was trying to repress him, but certainly his remarkable vitality was always on show, and along with his resilience enabled him to survive tax problems and ill health as he grew older. As late as 1974 – the year before he died – he released an album, Great Rhythm and Blues Oldies, Volume 1, recorded, in 1973.

His bounce and his energy are evident throughout this CD. Taken in small doses, one can hear why he was so successful, but the lack of variety prevents me, at least, from listening to more than 2 or 3 tracks in quick succession. I was, therefore, grateful for the appearances by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on a few tracks.

Glyn Pursglove


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