Jump Blues: The Father of Rock 'n' Roll?

Updated on November 6, 2019
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Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five were quite popular during the forties.
Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five were quite popular during the forties.

What Are the Jump Blues?

Jump Blues is a style of up-tempo blues or jazz that became quite popular during the '40s and especially WWII. Its most probable predecessor were the big swing and jazz bands of the '20s and '30s.

In many ways, the jump blues are a contradiction of terms, because the blues are not intended to be upbeat, but rather slow, laid back, and sorrowful.

In explaining how the jump blues came about, the most likely scenario is that jump blues evolved during the depression years out of financial necessity. Big bands were expensive. And, as a result, a small combo featuring a saxophone (and perhaps a trumpet or trombone) could get a lot of mileage out of a tight group of talented musicians. And, not surprisingly, as the nature of the band changed, so did the music.

Perhaps, no band better personifies the development of jump blues than Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

From the Big Band Era

Cab Calloway and his large gathering of musicians were one of the classic big bands from the thirties. Here, Cab shows off his scat singing technique, an art he learned from Louis Armstrong, as well as his excellent showmanship, which helped make him a household world, especially after his big hit "Minnie the Moocher" sold over a million copies and endeared the artist to white audiences. Back in 1931, a million records was a very big deal.

Cab Calloway Doing His Classic Minnie the Moocher

Ella Fitzgerald in the Movies

This film clip of Ella singing her 1938 "big hit" comes from the 1942 Abbott and Costello movie "Ride Em Cowboy". Originally, "A Tisket, A Tasket" was an American nursery rhyme and circle game from the nineteenth century. Then the cute rhyme was put to music by Ella and a NYC songwriter by the name of Van Alexander.

At the time Ella was a singer with the famous Chick Webb band of Harlem (NYC). After Chick died in 1939, Ella took over the band and a result her musical career took off. Though definitely from the Big Band era, he simplicity of this song was a forerunner of things to come.

A Tisket a Tasket by Ella Fitgerald

Really Rockin'

Though this video is from 1954, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was first released in 1939 by Big Joe Turner and his band. Today, this tune is considered to be classic "Jump Blues", even though the band is pretty large for this type of music. The title even suggests some sort of rockin' and rollin' activity, which in 1939, would be considered music before its time.

Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner

Social Commentary

Even though the "Jump Blues" had a fabulous "feel good" attitude associated with it, musicians of that era were not adverse to mixing a little social commentary with the music. In the following musical number, begins the song by showing the proper respect, for Deacon Jones, a man of the cloth. However, by time the song is over, the true nature of "Deacon Jones" is severely questioned.

Deacon Jones by Louis Jordan

Dancing Was Big During the '40s

The singer in this '40s video, Mabel Lee, just died recently (2019) at age 98. So not only is dancing fun, but it might even be good for your health. Regardless of any health benefits, dancing was very popular before, during and after the war years. Popular dances of the era included the Jitterbug, the Cakewalk, the Boogie-woogie the Charleston and the over the top Lindy Hop, which remained popular during the early years of rock and roll.

P.S. I do believe Mabel Lee is doing a solo form of the Jitterbug dance in this video.

Half Past Jump Time by Mabel Lee

Don't Forget About Jive

If things aren't confusing already, there's always the musical arrangement and style of singing known as jive. In this instance, jive music is also known as swing music.

Then there is a style of talking in a street vernacular, which is commonly known as jive (jiving if you are actively talking that way).

Fortunately, the next musical number by June Richmond and the Roy Milton Band features both jive talk and a 40s swing style that can also referred to as "jive". What it doesn't feature is jive dancing, a lively way of moving across the dance floor that was very popular in the years right before rock and roll became popular.

47th Street Jive by June Richmond

What's a "Soundie"?

Sounds were three minute, musical film clips that played in a visual juke box. The viewer played a dime to watch a "Soundie", and while the variety of musical choices varied widely, the viewer had little choice except to watch whatever filmclip was next in the projector.. Each musical number was made on 16mm film and then run through a real film projector, when the customer dispersed with his dime.

After the war, the "Soundie" quickly died out as the technology behind television improved quickly. Nonetheless, the Soundies from the early forties provide a rich cultural record, including those who are fond of "jump blues".

Taint No Good by Edna Mae Harris

Western Country Discovers Swing and Boogie

One popular style that both preceded and influenced the jump blues was "the boogie" or sometimes called "boogie-woogie". Boggie-woogie music was a fast style that featured eight notes to the bar instead of the usual four. As a result many songs in the jump blues genre featured the boogie style. Country and western artists were also quick to pick up the boogie as well.

"Cow Cow Boogie" was a popular WWII tune that crossed several music genres, as well as a couple of color lines. The musical score was written by a successful jazz composer, Don Raye , while the lyrics came from Benny Carter, a distinguished Harlem saxophone player. The song was written for the Abbott and Costello movie, "Ride Em Cowboy", but also became a big hit on both the national Pop Chart and the Harlem Hit Parade.

Jump Blues Meets the West


Beginning with Louis Armstrong back in the '20s, black musicians would occasionally find their way to white audiences. During the Big Band era, Cab Calloway did it with "Minnie the Moocher", as did Ella Fitzgerald, when she recorded "A Tisket a Tasket".

Immediately after WWII, this kind of event became more commonplace, as a few of the inequalities between the races began to fade away, especially in the entertainment field. Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five did very well with this 1943 release, "Five Guys Named Moe".

Five Guys Named Moe

How Rock and Roll Was Born (According to Muddy Waters)

Muddy Waters was basically a blues singer, who on occasion would do a boogie-styled number. He even had one popular instrumental called "Muddy Jumps One", which was released in the late forties. Many music historians (including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) place Muddy, as one of the forerunners of Rock and Roll.

The Blues Had a Baby

Post War Rock and Rollers

After the Big One (WWII), rock and roll really took off. The number of musical hits during this time period is astounding, but unfortunately the "Soundies" of the early 40s had faded out of style and so little visual recordings from this era exist. Still, the audio record for this short time period is worth checking out, as the years from 1945 to 1950 produced a bounty of lively rock'n and roll before Rock and Roll had become an official musical genre.

During this fertile musical period, most (but not all) of the top performers were black men, all but forgotten today. The list of top recordings runs long, but anyone interested in this cultural phenomena should take a close listen to the likes of Louis Jordan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Joe Turner, Amos Miburn, Sticks McGhee and Champion Jack Dupree, just to name a few. Of special interest is this number by Wild Bill Moore called "We're Gonna Rock, We're Goin' to Roll".

Wild Bill Moore in 1948: Is This the first Rock and Roll Song?

The Creative Post War Years

The second half of the 40s decade produced numerous songs that became rock and roll standards in the following years. Much of the creative talent came from the rhythm and blues world, but occasionally a C & W songwriter, produced a noteworthy song, such as Hank Williams did with this lively number that would eventually become a rock standard.

George Thorogood Rocks Out with a Hank Williams Hit, Move It over

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Harry Nielsen


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