Post-War R&B a Bridge for Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Here is a great discussion between KPLU’s Nick Morrison and Kirsten Kendrick.

Below is video and a transcript of the interview. To hear the audio from the interview, click here.

SEATTLE, WA (KPLU) – Without jazz, rock ‘n’ roll might have never happened. At least it wouldn’t have happened as it did. And the link between jazz and rock ‘n’ roll is post-World War II rhythm and blues. That’s the viewpoint of KPLU’s Nick Morrison. He compiled a list of the most influential post-war R&B songs and he shared them with KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick.

Nick: The other day, I was talking to a person who was a jazz performer in the 1950s. And like a lot of jazz performers from the 1950s, this person said “you know when rock ‘n’ roll came along, that was the death of jazz as popular music.”

And I thought, okay, that’s true enough, but it’s equally true to say that without jazz rock n’ roll wouldn’t have evolved in the way that it did. And the link between jazz and rock n’ roll is post-war rhythm and blues because many of the post-war rhythm and blues singers cut their teeth in big band jazz music.

Kirsten: And who’s the first person that we’re going to be listening to?

Nick: Well, the first person is the guy who I think is the best example of that, and that is Louis Jordan. Louis Jordan did some great rhythm and blues stuff. In the 30s, he was working in a big band led by Chick Webb – one of the best big bands going. And I guess there was a falling out between Chick Webb and Louis Jordan and he started following his own path. And so, the song that I want to start with is something that he recorded in 1945 and when you listen to this, pay special attention to the opening guitar lick. You’ll recognize it as something that Chuck Berry did. This was recorded 10 years before Chuck Berry ever did it.

Song: Louis Jordan – Ain’t That Just Like a Woman

Kirsten: I did recognize that guitar lick. That’s Johnny B. Goode.

Nick: Good for you, good for you. (laugh)

Song: Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

Nick: The next song we’re going to listen to is Roy Brown doing “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” This was recorded a couple of years after the Louis Jordan song that we just heard. And a lot of people would consider this song to be the first rock n’ roll song ever recorded. Of course, that point will be debated for ever and ever.

One thing about this song is that I think it makes very clear the difference between the Tin Pan Alley jazz big band recordings and the big band recordings that were going on with post-war rhythm and blues – just in the fact that they talk about sex a little more explicitly. The old “Making Whoopee” that Eddie Cantor did in the late 20s when Roy Brown is singing about making whoopee, he’s singing I’m gonna hold my baby tight as I can, tonight she’ll know I’m a mighty, mighty man.’ A little earthier, a little more to the point. You’ll see, listen.

Song: Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight

Kirsten: The third artists we’re going to listen to from your list, Nick, is Wynonie Harris.

Nick: He came out of the big band era. He was a singer with Lucky Milander’s big band for a long time before he went out on his own. And we were talking about the earthiness of the euphemism a little bit earlier with Mr. Brown Wynonie Harris was famous for being raunchy. We’re going to hear one of his less raunchy numbers. This is called All She Wants to do is Rock.’

Song: Wynonie Harris – All She Wants to do is Rock

Kirsten: So Nick, how does all of this add up to rock n’ roll?

Nick: Well, rock n’ roll is basically a fusion of a black sensibility and a white sensibility. That’s the way I think of it. And, with post-war R&B, you had a thread of, basically, blues that was pulled from rural blues through jazz into post-war R&B and these songs became popular on juke boxes and although these were black artists recording for a predominantly black audience, there were a lot of white music lovers that picked up on this as well and, of course, a lot of musicians. This is the music and Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry listened to. And, when, say, Elvis Presley took his influences from post-war R&B and his influences from white country music and put those together – bingo, rock n’ roll.

Song: Elvis Presley – Good Rockin’ Tonight

Nick Morrison’s Post-War R&B Songs

Artist Song Album Cover
(Links to Amazon)
Louis Jordan Ain’t That Just Like a Woman Number Ones
Roy Brown Good Rockin’ Tonight Greatest Hits
Roy Milton Hop, Skip & Jump Specialty Profiles (2 Disc)
Wynonie Harris All She Wants to Do is Rock Very Best of Wynonie Harris: Good Rockin’ Tonight
Pearl Bailey and “Hot Lips” Page Hucklebuck 16 Most Requested Songs

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