While most of the jazz world might be focused on celebrating the centennial of Duke Ellington, Soundbites applauds the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for acknowledging the importance of the career of Louis Jordan with "At the Swing Cat's Ball: Louis Jordan's Rhythm and Blues," a series of concerts and lectures devoted to Jordan, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as an "early influence" in 1987. Ellington, who started recording in the late '20s, might predate Jordan, but Jordan's influence has arguably been just as significant in shaping swing, rock, and R&B.
"Check this out: James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Haley, and Chuck Berry all consider Louis Jordan their most important mentor," says Robert Santelli, the vice president of education and public programming for the museum. "What you see there is the wide range of influences. Jordan was a saxophone player, and B.B. King considers him a main influence. Jordan was a songwriter, record producer, arranger, band leader, singer, and movie star. The guy had his hand in every form of music medium of the time."
Born in 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, Jordan initially played in a variety of big bands before forming his own group in 1938. By the '40s, his hits were topping the R&B charts. Known for tunes like "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" and "Saturday Night Fish Fry," Jordan, who died in the mid-'70s, brought a Cab Calloway-like sensibility to his music and was often dismissed as a novelty act because of it.
"The interesting thing about Jordan, unlike say Robert Johnson or Woody Guthrie, both of which are musical icons, is that Jordan isn't and should be," says Santelli. "Of all the rock 'n' roll pioneers, he is the most underrated of them all. One of the educational goals is not only to bring attention to Jordan's vast contributions to American music, but he is also someone who we see as the bridge that links pre- and post-World War II music because he was there right at the proverbial crossroads when American music was undergoing a vast transformation, and he's the guy that pulls it all together. He's an amazing character who deserves a whole lot more credit, and one of the things we'd like to do is begin the process of giving him that credit."
That "process" is actually quite involved. From October 3-10, the Hall of Fame has scheduled a series of events that includes an exhibition at the Rock Hall (October 30); a week of free noon performances at the Avenue at Tower City (October 4-8) featuring acts such as Blue Lunch, the CWRU Jazz Combo, and Dukes of Wail (formerly Jump, Jive and Wail); a daylong conference of panel discussions (October 9); a concert featuring Bobby Rush, Southside Johnny and the Jukes, and Johnnie Johnson (October 9); and a showing of four of his films (October 10). The conference is actually part of an annual event that celebrates the work of an "early influence" who was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Past events have honored Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, and Robert Johnson. Eventually, there will be a book, National Public Radio special, and album devoted to Jordan, but all of that is at least a year down the road.
While the recent swing revival has brought attention to Jordan's work (the musical Five Guys Named Moe is based on his life), Santelli maintains Jordan still hasn't gotten his proper due, in part because he played R&B, a form of music that hasn't had a revival in the same way that the blues has had.
"I knew it [the swing revival] would only be a trend," Santelli admits. "It's cool that kids whose parents were barely alive when this music took off reinvented it and rediscovered it. In the end, they're only trends and never become a complete part of what's going on. But I think it was kind of cool to hear people like Brian Setzer doing 'Jump, Jive An' Wail.' It just gave a refreshing feel to a music scene that was very heavy on teen pop and hip-hop."
For more information on "At the Swing Cat's Ball: Louis Jordan's Rhythm and Blues," consult the Hall of Fame's website at www.rockhall.com.
Led by singer-guitarist Jim Miller (formerly of Oroboros), the Jimiller Band, one of Cleveland's best known jam bands, will be celebrating its first anniversary and the release of its new CD, Rock 'n' Roll Always Do, with a performance on October 2 at the Rhythm Room (2140 South Taylor Road). The twelve-song disc consists entirely of live material and was recorded at the Rhythm Room, Peabody's Down Under, and the Akron club the Dusty Frog. While the sound quality varies from song to song, Miller says he was more intent on reflecting the energy of the band's live performances than making a flawless product.
"We just wanted to get the exact live sound of that night," he says. "In some places the sound is cleaner, but my favorite is the stuff we recorded at the Rhythm Room. While the quality isn't the greatest, you can hear the energy of the crowd. We're a live band; we like to play live. The CD is really just for our fans, and they love the live stuff. I'm not looking to get signed; I'm just having fun with this."
Inspired by the likes of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, the Jimiller Band stretches out its songs, and you can even hear the audience hollering when it plays "Water Unto the Stone." For more information on the CD release party or other area performances, consult the band's website at www.jimiller.com. -- Jeff Niesel
Send local music info and zoot suits to [email protected].