George Pickow/Hulton Archive
If Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" doesn't point the way to rock 'n' roll, 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.