Louis Jordan - Santa Claus, Santa Claus (Pzazz 15)
Santa Claus, Santa Claus
Well, folks, it's that time of year again...
Louis Jordan was the man. Like Fats Waller before him, he came up out of Harlem and brought the humor and the rhythm with him. A member of Chick Webb's band (an outfit that was also home to folks like Jesse Stone, Jimmie Lunceford, and Ella Fitzgerald), he made a name for himself at the fabled Savoy Ballroom in the mid-thirties, where Webb's band regularly 'cut' all comers. By the end of the decade he had moved on, and his gregarious personality packed the Elks Rendevous, the Harlem club where he and his band had taken up residency, every night.
In what may just be the moment when Rock & Roll was born, Jordan decided to scale down the traditional Swing orchestra to a tight outfit called the Tympany Five. In the early forties, the Five brought their new brand of 'jive' to the midwest, working rooms like the Capitol Lounge in Chicago and the Fox Head Tavern in Cedar Rapids, defining the sound that would make Jordan the 'King of the Jukebox' over the next ten years.
To understand just how influential Jordan was on the development of Rhythm & Blues (and, consequently, Rock & Roll) consider the fact that his music has spent more time at the top of the R&B (or as it was known in those days, 'race') charts than anyone else's ever. His string of 113 weeks (well over two years) at #1 is a record that, I think it's safe to say, will never be broken. In addition to the five consecutive number one hits that immediately followed World War II (setting the stage for the 'post-war' R&B explosion), Jordan and his band would propel some 52 other 78s onto the charts, 49 of those into the top ten. They were huge. Songs like Saturday Night Fish Fry, What's The Use Of Gettin' Sober, Caldonia and Choo Choo Ch'Boogie still hold up today as the groundbreaking masterpieces that they were.
Louis Jordan also pioneered the use of Soundies, decades before MTV, and appeared in some of the final Race Movies, which were directed primarily at a Black audience. Jordan's appeal erased all boundaries, however, and like contemporaries Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong he was able to 'cross-over' on a regular basis, hitting the pop top forty some 18 times (including placing G.I. Jive at #1 for two weeks in 1944), and even reaching number one on the Country charts twice during those same war years.
The fifties weren't kind to Jordan and the R&B pioneers he had inspired like Amos Milburn and Charles Brown. As a whole new generation discovered what was now being called Rock & Roll, it's R&B roots didn't seem to matter much to them. Jordan's last chart hit would come in the summer of 1951, shortly after which he would leave Decca (the record company he had been with since 1938), and sign with Irv Green's Mercury label in an attempt to modernize his sound. It didn't work, and he found himself getting second billing (something that would have been simply inconceivable just a few years before) to upstart kids like Chuck Berry, who had borrowed his trademark guitar riff from Carl Hogan, the guitarist in the Tympany Five.
By the early sixties, Louis was all but forgotten by the music industry. In 1962 he joined Chris Barber's Jazz Band on a highly successful tour of the U.K., but returned home to an indifferent public. He would be one of the first artists Ray Charles signed to his new Tangerine label that same year, producing two LPs and eight singles over the next few years that didn't sell much. This cool record we have here today was cut in 1969, and finds Jordan hooked up with another founding father of R&B, Paul Gayten (I wonder if that's him playing that awesome piano?), who had just started up his Pzazz label out in Hollywood. Written and arranged by left coast Jazz wizard Teddy Edwards, Louis sounds every bit as good as he ever did.
He was 66 years old when he died of a heart attack in 1975. The impact he continues to make on American music will live on forever.
Now, as things begin to get even more crazy than usual here at the B Side hacienda, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a happy and a healthy holiday season... I hope Santa does the right thing!
Merry Christmas, everybody!