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Cadenza: Jazz’s Other Louis

A few months ago, I interviewed Sonny Rollins on stage at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center (you can hear it at www1.cuny.edu/forums/podcasts/). Surveying his early years, Rollins said, “My first idol was a chap named Louis Jordan. Now Louis Jordan was an entertainer as well as a great instrumentalist and if you see anything by him today you might see him dancing or clowning around or having a funny costume on. But he was really a great musician and he really had the heart and soul of rhythm and blues.” He added that Jordan was “the guy who turned a lot of us on,” emphasizing, “He was a fantastic musician.”

In this, Jordan’s centennial year, that fact ought to be commemorated. In the ’40s and ’50s, his influence was everywhere. He all but single-handedly created rhythm and blues, though his songs were covered by pop and jazz stars as well as the musicians who emerged directly from the idiom he established. Ray Charles not only recorded Jordan’s staples-“Let the Good Times Roll,” “Don’t the Sun Catch You Crying,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”-but also leaned on Jordan’s arrangements and vocal attack. Dizzy Gillespie considered him the father of rock and roll, a claim borne out by Chuck Berry, who said, “I identify myself with Louis Jordan more than any other artist.”

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.