“Le deux or Louis”
The two golden Louis
We celebrate the groundbreaking career of sax player and bandleader Louis Jordan, a founding father of rhythm and blues. In the late ’30s and early ’40s, Jordan made a conscious decision to turn away from the big band sound, a dominant trend in popular music of the day. He took a more streamlined approach to the music, putting together smaller, tighter bands. His groups, The Tympany Four and The Tympany Five, developed a looser, hard-driving sound that came to be known as “jump music.” Jordan’s departure not only fueled his successful string of novelty swing hits through the ’40s and early ’50s, but it created a bridge to another emerging music form: rock and roll. Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Ray Charles all cite the importance of Jordan on their work.
Louis Prima became very famous in the 1950s with an infectious Las Vegas act co-starring his wife (singer Keely Smith) that mixed together R&B (particularly the honking tenor of Sam Butera), early rock & roll, comedy, and Dixieland. Always a colorful personality, Prima was leading a band in New Orleans when he was just 11. In 1934, he began recording as a leader with a Dixieland-oriented unit and soon he was a major attraction on 52nd Street. His early records often featured George Brunies and Eddie Miller, and Pee Wee Russell was a regular member of his groups during 1935-1936. Prima, who composed “Sing, Sing, Sing” (which for a period was his theme song), recorded steadily through the swing era, had a big band in the 1940s, and achieved hits with “Angelina” and “Robin Hood.” In 1954, he began having great success in his latter-day group (their recordings on Capitol were big sellers and still sound joyous today), emphasizing vocals and Butera’s tenor, but he still took spirited trumpet solos. Although he eventually broke up with Keely Smith, Louis Prima (who voiced a character in Walt Disney’s animated film The Jungle Book in 1966) remained a popular attraction into the 1970s.