April 2, 1943: Louis Jordan at the Ritz Plaza
Louis Jordan played a one-nighter at the Ritz Plaza on April 2, 1943, his first appearance in Boston as a bandleader.
For most of its 26 years (1932 to 1958), the Ritz Plaza’s Crystal Ballroom, at 218 Huntington Ave, was a hall for rent, and every social club and organization that sponsored a dance or benefit used it. On occasion, a promoter rented it for a show or concert, and one of those brought singer and saxophonist Louis Jordan to Boston as a bandleader for the first time. Jordan’s music exemplified a distinctive style of small-group swing called jump, a dance-oriented blend of jazz and blues that was marked by saxophone solos, clever song lyrics, and strong rhythm sections. It reached its peak in the late 1940s, and laid the foundation for R&B.
Newspaper advertisements for the Jordan show did not state if the band was his own Tympany Five or a local group. If it was the Tympany Five at the Ritz Plaza, the band included trumpeter Eddie Roane, who grew up in nearby Springfield. If he was working as a single with local men, one surely would have been bassist Al Morgan, then with Sabby Lewis. Morgan, in fact, left the Lewis group to join Jordan from about March 1944 to January 1945.
Jordan had multiple songs in the jukebox in April 1943: “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” “What’s the Use of Getting Sober,” “That’ll Just About Knock Me Out,” (made popular locally by Mabel Robinson singing at Johnny Wilson’s) and “Five Guys Named Moe.” There would have been a good crowd on hand, too. Jordan was popular with white audiences as well as black, and the Ritz Plaza at that time was a place where both might go.
Jordan wasn’t the only purveyor of the jump blues in Boston in April 1943. Lewis’s band regularly disappointed the jazz purists by playing jump music, a trend that would escalate when Jimmy Tyler joined the band. Alto saxophonist Pete Brown was then at the Savoy. Pianist Hillary Rose and saxophonist Tom Kennedy were playing in the style, and their postwar combo proved quite popular in Boston and through the Merrimack Valley. The seeds of R&B and early rock and roll were planted in Boston by these bands during the war years.
Here are Jordan and the Tympany Five in a soundie with “Five Guys Named Moe,” a 1942 song that must have been on the Ritz Plaza set list.