Post-War Rhythm And Blues: Bridging Jazz, Rock

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If Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" doesn't point the way to rock, nothing does. i i

hide captionIf Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" doesn't point the way to rock 'n' roll, nothing does.

George Pickow/Hulton Archive
If Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" doesn't point the way to rock, nothing does.

If Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" doesn't point the way to rock 'n' roll, nothing does.

George Pickow/Hulton Archive

Many jazz artists who were active in the 1950s will tell you that the rise of rock 'n' roll marked the death of jazz as a form of popular music. While there might be truth in that observation, it seems equally true that, without jazz, rock 'n' roll might never have happened; at least it wouldn't have happened as it did. And the connective tissue between jazz and rock 'n' roll is the post-WWII rhythm and blues performed by artists such as Louis Jordan, Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and many others, most of whom came out of the Big Band Jazz Swing Era.

Although many of the early rhythm-and-blues singers performed with big-band accompaniment, the primary element that separated their music from other big-band music at the time was this: The R&B artists were black and performing and recording for a predominantly black audience. But a lot of white music lovers were paying attention, as well, as were young musicians of all races. Pioneering rockers such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry took elements of postwar R&B and incorporated them into their smaller, electrified, guitar-driven ensembles. What follows in this list are five songs from that era — songs which were influenced by jazz, but which helped pave the way for rock 'n' roll.

Post-War Rhythm And Blues: Bridging Jazz, Rock

Number Ones

Louis Jordan

  • Album: Number Ones
  • Song: Ain't That Just Like a Woman

Singer, saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan may have done the most to set the stage for the postwar R&B sound. In the mid-'30s, Jordan was the featured male singer with one of the greatest of the big bands led by drummer Chick Webb. Jordan shared vocal duties with Webb's female singer, a young woman by the name of Ella Fitzgerald. When Jordan and Webb parted ways in 1938, Jordan started his own band, The Tympany Five (which often included more than five members) and began a recording career that carried him through WWII and into the 1950s as "The King of the Jukebox," with songs including "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," "Caldonia," "Choo-Choo-Cha Boogie," "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and this 1945 recording, "Ain't That Just Like a Woman." If this song doesn't point the way to rock n roll, nothing does. The song's opening guitar riff, by Carl Hogan, was "appropriated" by Chuck Berry about a decade later, and has become one of the signature guitar licks in rock 'n' roll.

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  • "Ain't That Just Like a Woman"
  • Album: Number Ones
  • Artist: Louis Jordan
  • Label: Geffen
  • Released: 2005
 
Greatest Hits

Roy Brown

  • Album: Greatest Hits
  • Song: Good Rockin' Tonight

Although Roy Brown didn't record his song "Good Rockin' Tonight" until two years after the Louis Jordan song above, many rock historians point to Brown's song as the first rock 'n' roll record. Of course, much of this has to do with the content of the lyric — the fact that Brown is singing about rockin'. However, in most early R&B songs, the meaning of "rocking" was much different than it is today. Today, the word has many connotations: dancing, having a good time, even getting tasks done expeditiously. Back then, though, "rockin' " was simply a euphemism for having sex. Of course, euphemisms for sex weren't new in popular music. In 1928, Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn had written a song for Eddie Cantor called "Makin' Whoopee" — and that's just one example. The difference between Tin Pan Alley and R&B was that the sexual innuendo in R&B was earthier and becoming much more direct. As Roy Brown says in this song, "There's good rockin' tonight / I'm gonna hold my baby tight as I can / Tonight she'll know I'm a mighty, mighty man." What a listener would surmise from that statement is fairly apparent.

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  • "Good Rockin' Tonight"
  • Album: Greatest Hits
  • Artist: Roy Brown
  • Label: King
  • Released: 1996
 
Specialty Profiles: Roy Milton

Roy Milton

  • Album: Specialty Profiles [2 Disc]
  • Song: Hop, Skip & Jump

A lot of the R&B music of the '40s and '50s was also called "jump blues." Some of the earliest jump bandleaders included Lionel Hampton, Lucky Millinder and Earl Bostic. Much of Louis Jordan's music also fits nicely into this category. This 1948 recording, "Hop Skip and Jump" by Roy Milton and His Solid Senders, is an example of jump blues at its best. Milton's popularity was fairly fleeting, only lasting from the mid-'40s to the mid-'50s, but while he was at his peak, the Solid Senders were one of the hottest ensembles in R&B. As you listen to this song, pay attention to the piano accompaniment. That's the underrated Camille Howard, who often worked with Milton but also recorded a number of great sides under her own name.

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  • "Hop, Skip & Jump"
  • Album: Specialty Profiles
  • Artist: Roy Milton
  • Label: Specialty Records
  • Released: 2006
 
Very Best Of Wynonie Harris

Wynonie Harris

  • Album: Very Best of Wynonie Harris: Good Rockin' Tonight
  • Song: All She Wants to Do Is Rock

Speaking of jump blues, one of the greatest R&B singers to come out of that era was Wynonie Harris, who received his introduction to a national audience as the singer in Lucky Millinder's big band. When Harris broke away from Millinder to start his own band, he became a huge success in the R&B world. Between 1946 and 1952, he had 15 Top 10 hits. He also developed a reputation as one of the most ribald singers in his field with songs like "Bloodshot Eyes," "I Like My Baby's Pudding," "Sittin' on It All the Time" and this 1949 recording, "All She Wants to Do Is Rock," where, once again, "rocking" has nothing to do with going out to dance. (Bonus information: In 1947, there was an interesting intersection between Harris and another artist in this list, Roy Brown. Before Brown recorded "Good Rockin' Tonight," he met Wynonie Harris and tried to sell him the song. Harris turned it down, so Brown recorded it himself and stepped neatly into R&B and rock history. Harris later did a fine cover version of the song, but he wasn't in it at its birth.)

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  • "All She Wants to Do Is Rock"
  • Album: Very Best of Wynonie Harris: Good Rockin' Tonight
  • Artist: Wynonie Harris
  • Label: Collectables Records
  • Released: 2003
 
Pearl Bailey: 16 Most Requested Songs

Pearl Bailey And "Hot Lips" Page

  • Album: 16 Most Requested Songs
  • Song: Hucklebuck

If you're listening to these songs in order, you just heard Wynonie Harris sing this phrase in the last song: "All she wants to do is stay at home and Hucklebuck with daddy all night long." In 1949, a song called "The Hucklebuck" was a huge R&B instrumental hit for the writer of the song, saxophonist Paul Williams. It started a dance craze and quickly spawned cover versions by vocalists ranging from Roy Milton to Frank Sinatra, but nobody had more fun with this R&B classic than two performers who are not at all known for their contributions to R&B: Pearl Bailey and Oren "Hot Lips" Page. Page was primarily known as a jazz trumpeter with the Count Basie Big Band, while Bailey is remembered as a consummate entertainer: actress, dancer, pop singer and television personality. Right around 1950, Bailey and Page teamed up for a couple of vocal duet recordings and, though they verge on novelty works, the results can't help but put a smile on your face. Not only is their version of "The Hucklebuck" great fun to listen to, but it's also a reminder that Pearl Bailey, whose recordings are seldom heard these days, possessed one of the purest and most joyful voices in American music. Talk about effortless vibrato.

You can hear this song at Grooveshark.

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  • "Hucklebuck"
  • Album: 16 Most Requested Songs
  • Artist: Pearl Bailey
  • Label: Columbia/Legacy
  • Released: 1991
 

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