Styles & Forms | Jump Blues
Infectiously swinging, full of good humour and hugely popular for its time, the jump blues movement of the pre-and-post-Second World War years was a precursor to the birth of both R&B and rock’n’roll.
Kansas City was an incubator for jump blues in the late 1930s, via the infectious, rolling rhythms of Walter Page’s Blue Devils and the Bennie Moten and Count Basie bands. But in the years following America’s involvement in the Second World War, Los Angeles became a major breeding ground for a west coast branch of this new sound, characterized by shuffling uptempo rhythms, raucously upbeat spirits, honking tenor saxophones and swaggering vocalists who shouted about partying, drinking and good times. It was there, in the clubs that lined Central Avenue in Los Angeles, that a bevy of saxophonists dubbed ‘honkers’ for their piercing, squealy tones and frantic showmanship helped to define the scene. Among them were Big Jay McNeely, Chuck Higgins and Joe Houston, all players influenced by Illinois Jacquet’s rambunctious tenor soloing on Lionel Hampton’s huge 1942 hit, ‘Flying Home’.
Setting The Pattern
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the jump blues movement was Louis Jordan, who with his Tympany Five came to personify the spirit of the times with his theme song ‘Let The Good Times Roll’. From 1941 to 1952, Jordan reigned as the ‘King of Jukeboxes’, with a string of catchy, uptempo boogie-woogie influenced hits like ‘Caldonia’, ‘Choo Choo Ch’Boogie’, ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’, ‘Five Guys Named Mo’ and ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’. Jordan’s infectious rhythms, aggressive alto sax playing and dynamic stage presence set the pattern for jump blues.
Many of the most popular west coast performers who followed in the wake of Jordan’s success based themselves in Los Angeles during the 1940s but originally hailed from Texas. Chief among them were pianist-singer Charles Brown, whose ultra-mellow style made a big impact in 1945 with ‘Driftin’ Blues’ and again in 1947 with the Yuletide classic ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ (both cut with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers) and the pioneering electric guitarist T-Bone Walker, whose inherent soulfulness and jazzy dexterity on the instrument would influence generations of bluesmen from B. B. King, Lowell Fulson and Pee Wee Crayton to proto-rocker Chuck Berry and blues rock pioneers like Duane Allman, Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton.
Walker arrived in Los Angeles in 1934 and by 1939 was singing in Les Hite’s popular Cotton Club Orchestra. After striking out on his own in 1941, he signed with Capitol Records and cut ‘Mean Old World’ backed with ‘I Got A Break Baby’ for the fledgling label. The momentum of his recording career was halted by the American Federation of Musicians’ recording band which lasted from 1942 to 1944. After spending two years in Chicago, Walker returned to Los Angeles in 1946 and signed with Black & White Records. His third session for the label, the anthemic ‘Call It...
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