The great jazz saxophonist, vocalist, songwriter, and arranger Louis Jordan was born in 1908 in Arkansas to a bandleader father who taught him to play the horn. While still a teenager he left his hometown and began to play the saxophone in orchestras backing Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. In the 1930s he settled in New York, where he played with Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb and the then unknown Ella Fitzgerald. From 1939 he fronted the Tympany Five, with whom he recorded a string of hits in the forties for the Decca label, including Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Let The Good Times Roll, Choo Choo Ch' Boogie, What's The Use Of Getting Sober, Beans and Cornbread, Saturday Night Fish Fry, Blue Light Boogie, Caldonia and many more.
Jordan's legacy is generally considered to have served as a bridge between swing and rock and roll. He persona was a clown with a bubbly personality who played and sang largely novelty jive songs, but under this comedic guy was a black man with a social conscience: many of his recordings contained thinly veiled social commentary about racism and poverty. Jordan made his way into Hollywood movies, including Follow the Boys, which featured the great classic Is You is or is You Ain't my Baby?. During World War II he made many appearances on Jubilee, an Armed Forces Radio broadcast.
By the fifties Jordan's popularity began to wane and his health began to waver, and though his tunes were covered by B.B. King and Chuck Berry, he himself wasn't listened to much. Ray Charles cited him as a seminal influence and covered his Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying, signing him to his Tangerine label. Even this did not save Jordan's career, and he played only sporadically until his death by heart attack in 1975.
In 1990 Clarke Evans wrote a musical celebrating Louis Jordan entitled Five Guys Named Moe, featuring music written or performed by Jordan; it was a great hit, and helped rekindle interest in the jazz great. There's also a book about him, Let the Good Times Roll, by John Chilton.