Jump blues is an up-tempo style of blues, 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.


Jordan in New York, July 1946
Jordan in New York, July 1946

Jump blues evolved from the music of big bands such as those of Lionel Hampton and Lucky Millinder. These bands of the early 1940s produced musicians such as Louis Jordan, Jack McVea, Earl Bostic, and Arnett Cobb.[3] Louis Jordan "was by far the most popular of the jump blues stars", according to a 1993 news item which mentions other artists who played this genre: Roy Brown, Amos Millburn and Joe Liggins as well as "sax soloists like Jack McVea, Big Jay McNeely, and Bullmoose Jackson". The most exciting singles, according to this source, were Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry", Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight", and Big Jay McNeely's "Deacon's Hop".[4]

Louis Jordan's Tympany Five
Louis Jordan's Tympany Five

One publication of the Smithsonian Institution provided this summary of Jordan's music.

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 accomplished 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 Tympany Five included "Saturday Night Fish Fry", one of the first "to feature a distorted electric guitar".[8] Many sources describe this recording as jump blues, because "it literally made its listeners jump to its pulsing beat", according to NPR.[9] Another source describes Jordan's jump blues style as combining "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."[10]

Lionel Hampton
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.[11] One source states that this recording was "the best example of where big band jazz set the stage for jump blues".[4]

When released, however, 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". Billboard also noted that Benny Goodman had a hand in writing the tune "back in the old Goodman Sextet Days".[12] Billboard went on to state that "apart from the fact that it is Lionel Hampton's theme, 'Flying Home' is a sure-fire to make the youngsters shed their nickels—and gladly."[13] Five years later Billboard noted the inclusion of "Flying Home" in a show that was "strictly for hepsters who go for swing and boogie, and beats in loud, hot unrelenting style a la Lionel Hampton....The Hampton band gave with everything, practically wearing itself out with such numbers as 'Hey Bop a Re Bop', 'Hamp Boogie' and 'Flying Home'"[14]

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.[11]

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."[15]

Jump groups, employed to play for jitterbugs 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] According to the Blues Hall of Fame, Big Joe Turner was particularly important; he "was a king of the jump blues genre".[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. "The missing link in the evolution of rock and roll JUMP BLUES". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  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. ^ "Jump Blues – Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll". Ampopmusic.com. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  11. ^ a b Palmer, p. 134.
  12. ^ Billboard, June 17, 1944, carried an ad (p. 18) listing Goodman as a co-writer.
  13. ^ Billboard. July 4, 1942. p. 74.
  14. ^ Billboard. July 5, 1947.
  15. ^ Palmer, p. 146.
  16. ^ "Big Joe Turner". Blues.org. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  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