Jump blues is an up-tempo style of blues, jazz, and boogie woogie usually played by small groups and featuring horn instruments. It was popular in the 1940s and was a precursor of rhythm and blues and rock and roll.[2] Appreciation of jump blues was renewed in the 1990s as part of the swing revival.


Alto saxophonist Louis Jordan in New York, July 1946

Jump blues evolved from the music of big bands such as those of Lionel Hampton and Lucky Millinder in the early 1940s which produced musicians such as Louis Jordan, Jack McVea, Earl Bostic, and Arnett Cobb.[3] Jordan was the most popular of the jump blues stars; other artists who played the genre include Roy Brown, Amos Milburn, and Joe Liggins, as well as sax soloists Jack McVea, Big Jay McNeely, and Bull Moose Jackson. Hits included singles such as Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry", Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" and Big Jay McNeely's "Deacon's Hop".[4]

Jordan with his Tympany Five

One important stylistic prototype in the development of R&B was jump blues, pioneered by Louis Jordan, with ... His Tympany Five ... three horns and a rhythm section, while stylistically his music melded elements of swing and blues, incorporating the shuffle rhythm, boogie-woogie bass lines, and short horn patterns or riffs. The songs featured the use of African American vernacular language, humor, and vocal call-and-response sections between Jordan and the band. Jordan’s music appealed to both African American and white audiences, and he had broad success with hit songs like "Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby" (1944).[5]

Blues and jazz were part of the same musical world, with many musicians straddling both genres.[6] Jump bands such as the Tympany Five, which came into being at the same time as the boogie-woogie revival, achieved maximum effect with an eight-to-the-bar boogie-woogie style.[7]

Jordan's "raucous recordings" with the Tympany Five like "Saturday Night Fish Fry", one of the first to feature a distorted electric guitar,[8] "literally made its listeners jump to its pulsing beat".[9] At least two other Jordan records are viewed as jump blues, Caldonia and Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.[10]

Jordan's jump blues combined good-natured novelty lyrics (some with suggestive double meanings); pushing the tempo; strengthening the beat; layering the sound with his bluesy saxophone and playful melodies.[11]

Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton recorded the stomping big-band blues song "Flying Home" in 1942.[2] Featuring a choked, screaming tenor sax performance by Illinois Jacquet, the song was a hit in the "race" category.[12][4] Billboard described "Flying Home" as "an unusually swingy side...with a bright bounce in the medium tempo and a steady drive maintained, it's a jumper that defies standing still".

Both Hampton and Jordan combined the popular boogie-woogie rhythm, a grittier version of swing-era saxophone styles as exemplified by Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and playful, humorous lyrics or verbal asides laced with jive talk.[12]

As this urban, jazz-based music became more popular, musicians who wanted to "play for the people" began favoring a heavy, insistent beat. which appealed to black listeners who no longer wished to be identified with "life down home".[13]

Jump groups, employed to play for jitterbug dances at a much lower cost than big bands, became popular with agents and ballroom owners. The saxophonist Art Chaney said "[w]e were insulted when an audience wouldn't dance".[7]

Jump was especially popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s, through artists such as Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Roy Brown, Charles Brown, Helen Humes, T-Bone Walker, Roy Milton, Billy Wright, Wynonie Harris, Louis Prima, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.[2][14] Less frequently mentioned, Goree Carter also recorded some jump blues; his Rock Awhile is said by Robert Palmer to be an appropriate candidate for the title of first rock and roll record.[15]

By the mid-1950s, jump blues had been all but forgotten, with a few exceptions such as "Five Guys Named Moe" and some songs from the 1980s, by The Honeydrippers.[16]

The term "rock and roll" had a strong sexual connotation in jump blues and R&B, but by the time DJ Alan Freed referred to rock and roll in the mid 50s, "the sexual component had been dialled down enough that it simply became an acceptable term for dancing".[17]

See also


  1. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music. p. 912
  2. ^ a b c d Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 170. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  3. ^ Dietsche, pp. 9–10.
  4. ^ a b Considine, J. D. (5 December 1993). "The missing link in the evolution of rock and roll JUMP BLUES". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  5. ^ "Tell It Like It is: A History of Rhythm and Blues | Smithsonian Folklife". Archived from the original on 2020-10-25. Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  6. ^ Wald, p. 198.
  7. ^ a b Dietsche, p. 9.
  8. ^ Dawson, Jim; Propes, Steve (1992). What Was the First Rock 'N' Roll Record?. Boston & London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-12939-0.
  9. ^ "Louis Jordan: 'Jukebox King'". NPR. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  10. ^ Listen to the Blues! Exploring a Musical Genre, James E. Perone, 2019, page 93
  11. ^ "Jump Blues – Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll". Ampopmusic.com. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  12. ^ a b Palmer, p. 134.
  13. ^ Palmer, p. 146.
  14. ^ "Big Joe Turner". Blues.org. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Roll Over, Ike Turner". Texas Monthly. December 1, 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2022. Citing its unmistakable resemblance to Chuck Berry's later work, its lyrical instruction to "rock awhile," and the way the guitar crackled through an overdriven amp
  16. ^ "The missing link in the evolution of rock and roll JUMP BLUES". The Baltimore Sun. December 5, 1993. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  17. ^ "The unexpected origins of music's most well-used terms". BBC. October 12, 2018. Retrieved February 22, 2021. its meaning covering both sex and dancing

Further reading