Louis Jordan at 100

Today is the centennial anniversary of the birth of Louis Jordan. Jordan is the link from the birth of jazz and the big band swing era to rock ‘n’ roll, from Louis Armstrong (with whom he recorded some duets) to Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Having touched everyone from Ray Charles to Prince, Jordan deserves a hearing in his own right. Between 1942 and 1951 he recorded an astounding 57 rhythm and blues chart hits on Decca. Bill Dahl’s Allmusic profile of Jordan summarizes his career nicely.

Bing Crosby takes a couple of elegant turns with Jordan on “My Baby Said Yes” and “Your Socks Don’t Match” on the wonderful, inexpensive five-disc Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five compilation of Jordan’s work on Decca that came out on JSP Records in 2001. Suffice it to say that Crosby never sounded cooler — although he sounded as cool on several occasions.

Among the many highlights of the Decca recordings are the war-era “Ration Blues,” the post-war “Reconversion Blues,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” and several duets with Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he crossed paths in Chick Webb’s band. You may have heard at least a few of Jordan’s numerous hit songs — “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Caldonia,” “Let the Good Times Roll.” Perhaps most striking is the sheer joyousness of Jordan’s music. It is a quality that comes through clearly in the video clip above of Jordan singing “I Got Those Roamin’ Blues.” A blues song with a happy ending, it comes from Jordan’s 1947 film “Look-Out Sister.”

According to the IMDb plot summary of the film, a famous bandleader, suffering from overwork and exhaustion, goes to a sanitarium for a rest. While there he dreams of being out west at a dude ranch, where he finds himself involved in the beautiful owner’s struggle to keep her ranch from falling into the hands of the villain, who wants either her or her ranch (or, preferably, both). Tagline: “When he’s not singin’, he’s shootin’. When he’s not shootin’, he’s lovin!'”

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