Jump Blues- African-American Jazz in California

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Jump Blues- African-American Jazz in California

February 21, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Jump Blues

After World War 2 a new style of music emerged in Los Angeles. It eventually became known as jump blues. While electric blues was coming to prominence in Chicago, something different was happening on the coast. World War 2 plus the effects of the 1942-1944 strike between the musicians union and the record companies helped kill off the popularity of the big swing bands. Venue owners discovered that it made more economic sense to hire a 6-7 piece ensemble as opposed to 16-18.

A number of these smaller ensembles started to appear. Most were modeled after Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. 8 beat boogie rhythms with a focus on the vocalists and the saxophone as the primary solo voice. Jack McVea was one of the first west coast bandleaders to form the smaller jump ensemble which happened in 1943. A few years later he had one of the biggest hits of the era with "Open the Door Richard."

Thanks to the influence of T-Bone Walker the electric guitar started to enter the scene as well. Besides T-Bone, Pee Wee Crayton and a few others paved the way for the guitar to eventually take center stage. World War 2 also changed the scene in other ways. The black population of Los Angeles increased dramatically during the war. This led to the establishment of a number of nightlife scenes most notably Central Ave and Bronzeville. Elk’s Auditorium, Alex Lovejoy’s Breakfast Club, Jack’s Basket Room, The Casablanca and the Club Alabam are just a few of the legendary Los Angeles nightspots. In San Diego it was the Creole Palace on Market.

Venues that couldn’t afford a live band discovered that the jukebox would work just as well. After the war the jukebox industry became big business. This music still wasn’t played on the radio so the jukebox became the arbiter of hit records.

Dozens of small independent record companies popped up after the war all looking for that elusive juke box hit. The first major success was Private Cecil Gant’s recording of “I
Wonder” for the Bronze record label. Within the first week it sold 1,000 copies. Bronze was too small to meet the demand but it showed other would be record company entrepreneurs what could happen with just one hit record. The race was on.

Gilt-Edge, Modern, Exclusive, Supreme, Swingtime, Specialty and Aladdin were all new companies that were looking to sign potential hitmakers. Joe Liggins had a hit with “The Honeydripper” that was another jukebox sensation. It dominated the summer of 1945. In addition to Liggins, his brother Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy along with
Roy Milton’s Solid Senders and Jack McVea’s Door Openers established the west coast jump blues sound.

Another west coast invention was the honking screaming saxophone made popular by Big Jay McNeely. The legendary tenor battles between Big Jay and Joe Houston are still talked about today. There were also the pianists, most notably Amos Milbourne, Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown and Ivory Joe Hunter. There were the blues shouters: Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown and Jimmy Witherspoon.

Johnny Otis maintained a larger group and became an important spokesman for the music. He was a drummer, vibraphonist, artist, pioneer radio disc jockey and eventually hosted his own television show. It was Los Angeles that gave birth to the Disc Jockey after World War 2. It took a while for these records to start to get airplay but by the
late forties it was Hunter Hancock who led the way with his Midnight Matinee.

The recordings coming out of the west coast between 1945-1950 was a combination of blues, boogie and jazz. There was a definite west coast sound. This sound would turn out to be a major influence on what would soon be called Rhythm and Blues.

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