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Louis Jordan

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NPR Audio Feature NPR's Louis Armstrong Centennial Radio Project: Louis Jordan
Jazz critic Stanley Crouch looks at the relationship between Armstrong and rhythm & blues pioneer Louis Jordan.

(1908- 1975) Saxophonist, singer, and bandleader

Louis Jordan was taught clarinet and saxophone by his father, who led the band for the Rabbit Foots Minstrels (Jordan toured with them while still in high school). He made his professional debut with Jimmy Pryor (1929), then worked with Ruby Williams and other bandleaders in Arkansas until moving to Philadelphia to join the tuba player Jim Winters (1932).

Jordan performed with Charlie Gaines (1933-5), the violinist Leroy Smith (1935-6), and Chick Webb (1936-8), and played briefly with Fats Waller and Kaiser Marshall before forming his own ensemble to work in New York. This group, which became known as the Tympany Five, was tremendously popular both in Harlem and throughout the rest of the country until the late 1950s. Jordan also appeared in films with the Tympany Five, including Follow the Boys (1944), Meet Miss Bobby Sox (1944), Beware (1946), Swing Parade of 1946 (1946), Reet, Petite and Gone (1947), and Look out Sister (1948). He led a big band briefly (1951-2), made a solo tour of England (1962), and toured Asia (1967-8), and continued to work into the 1970s.

Jordan combined showmanship and musicianship in equal parts and became a widely influential force in music, particularly, in the late 1940s and the 1950s, in the rhythm-and-blues field. As an improviser he is best remembered for his work on alto saxophone, but he also played the soprano, tenor, and baritone instruments. He wrote a number of songs, including Five Guys Named Moe, Is You Is, or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby?), Choo Choo Ch'boogie, and Saturday Night Fish Fry.

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