(1908 – 1975)
Saxophonist/vocalist/songwriter/bandleader Louis Jordan was an early R&B pioneer whose exuberant spirit and musical approach were key influences on early Rock and Rollers, perhaps most notably Chuck Berry, who cited Jordan as an inspiration. His swinging small-combo style was a bridge between the Big Band era and the birth of Rock and Roll.
Although he began his career in Big Band swing in the 1930s, Jordan became a star in the following decade as one of the leading popularizers of the uptempo Jazz/Blues/Boogie Woogie hybrid known as Jump Blues. Funny and charismatic, he created a series of joyous, raucous, and often risqué recordings with his band the Tympany Five, becoming one of the era's most popular black performers, as well as one of the few to sell large numbers of records to white listeners. During this period, Jordan collaborated on record with such giants as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald, and helped to introduce electric guitar and electric organ to R&B.
The Arkansas native first gained attention playing and singing in Chick Webb's legendary orchestra, which at the time also included Ella Fitzgerald, before launching his own group in the late 30s. He briefly billed his outfit as Louie Jordan's Elks Rendez-vous Band (after the Harlem club where they often played) before rechristening it the Tympany Five — a name he maintained even when the lineup expanded beyond five musicians.
Between 1942 and 1951, Jordan had an incredible run of 57 R&B chart hits on the Decca label, including "I'm Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town," "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)," "Five Guys Named Moe," "G.I. Jive," "Caldonia," "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?," "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and "Blue Light Boogie." He also recorded numerous sides for the Armed Forces Radio Service and the V-Disc series during World War II, and he and his band appeared in several feature films and starred in a series of musical shorts that played in movie theaters in the late 40s.
Although he continued to make solid new music well into the 50s, Jordan's record sales slipped, and a move to the Aladdin label failed to restore his former popularity. He continued to record for a series of labels — including Tangerine, owned by Ray Charles, who had long cited Jordan as a major influence — until shortly before his death in 1975.
Jordan's prestige and popularity has continued to rise in recent years, thanks to CD reissues of his vintage work as well as the successful Broadway musical Five Guys Named Moe, built around Jordan's durable songbook and effervescent persona.