Every music addict who willfully indulges in the lifelong hobby of collecting albums has on their shelves a few records that stand out because they’re unlike anything else in their entire assemblage. Speaking for myself, there are several that fit that categorization within the various genres I’ve become attached to over the decades. In the branch of my library where the jazz discs dwell one of those unique platters is Joe Jackson’s “Jumpin’ Jive.” I wouldn’t have sprung for one of his albums considering the gauche New Wave material he’d made his reputation creating during the late 70s but I happened to hear one of this record’s scintillating cuts on the radio one day and was so smitten with it that I knew I had to have it. Joe’s liner notes offer a fair description of the kind of music it contains. “When my Dad was my age, jazz was not respectable. It played in whorehouses, not Carnegie Hall. These classics of jump, jive and swing are all from the 40s.” He goes on to point out that songs performed in disreputable joints by the likes of Cab Calloway, Lester Young and, in particular, Louis Jordan are featured and that their music was never aimed at pleasing purists or jazz fans, just those who want to listen and enjoy. “Reap this righteous riff,” he adds. In quoting Mr. Calloway, I couldn’t have said it better.
Actually, I beg to differ on one matter. I think jazz fans who don’t already know about this album will LOVE this stuff and be very pleased about discovering it. This isn’t just a gathering of flimsy, cute nostalgia being laid down by this ensemble. That dank, restrictive label makes me think of things hokey or corny. Not so here. These tunes were hip when they were new and they’ll still be hip a century from now because they’re timeless. The story goes that Jackson had burned out trying to be a rock star and decided to do something radical. Like putting a big band outfit together to record obscure yet kick ass songs from circa WWII in an era when a market for such an undertaking didn’t even exist. In the early 80s there was no “retro” trend happening. Furthermore, in that age when edgy punk fashion was all the rage, the group picture on the back of the LP cover was anything but in-vogue. The seven white-shirt-and-loud-tie-clad guys standing in the photo look more like the nerdy dudes from your high school chess club than rebels out to deflower your kid sister. But I gotta tell you, this is one of the most exciting platters I own and it never fails to intrigue my senses and brighten my mood each time I give it a spin. These boys mean business yet they sound like they’re having the time of their lives and that aspect alone is worth savoring.
Jackson couldn’t have picked a more representative number to open with than Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.” Graham Maby’s walking bass line drives this bluesy big band jazz piece relentlessly on this, the first of twelve very special tracks they have in store for you. “Jack, You’re Dead” follows and here the group is as tight as a rusty water pump in the Sahara. This ditty swings hard and all the horn players take turns contributing sizzling solos. Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” is next and this is the tune that fished me in hook, line and sinker when I heard it on the radio. Its irresistible refrain is the equivalent of catnip to any jazz feline worth his/her salt and I dare you to give it a listen and not want to hear it again immediately. Joe’s subtle vibes add a classy touch and Raul Oliviera’s trumpet ride is striking. Cab Calloway’s “We The Cats (Shall Hep Ya)” is one of those thrilling call-and-response deals between Jackson and the band members that flat knocks me out. It’s the type of song that makes you feel like you’re lucky enough to be sitting in a smoky nightclub on an evening when the musicians are locked firmly “in the pocket” and can do no wrong. Pete Thomas’ alto saxophone lead is exceptionally hot.
The slower pace of “San Francisco Fan” sets up a sultry background for Joe’s melodramatic delivery of Calloway’s dastardly tale of woe. Oliviera’s muted trumpet matches the mood sublimely. You’d best buckle your seat belt for “Five Guys Named Moe” because this light-speed number will rip you a new one but you won’t mind due to your inability to wipe the grin off your mug while it whizzes through your ear canals. The splendid drumming provided by Larry Tolfree is exquisite from start to finish. “Jumpin’ Jive” is just plain fun as the boys in the band shout with glee in answer to Jackson’s urgings. Dave Bitteli’s tenor sax ride is spot on. Their rendition of Louie Armstrong’s “You Run Your Mouth (And I’ll Run My Business)” is greatness. I so respect that they don’t veer away from their goal of staying true to the essence of these tunes and their consistency in maintaining that noble approach is formidable. Jordan’s “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again)” follows and the sleazy feel they bequeath upon this novelty song fits like a well-worn boot. The spoken-word sections are a little goofy but they’re not attempting to be hip, they’re just telling it the way it was in the 40s. The intricate horn lines involved in “You’re My Meat” are fascinating and the individual performances are excellent. Their raucous version of “Tuxedo Junction” is remarkable. This unusual take on the Glenn Miller standard is led by Nick Weldon’s expressive piano and Maby’s steady-as-a-rock upright bass work. The arrangement is perfection in that it allows for an honorable tribute to be paid to the original while it retains the group’s own charismatic personality that can’t be ignored. They end with “How Long Must I Wait For You.” This stellar, upbeat number is an appropriate way to bring this exhilarating train trip back in time to a proper conclusion. Tolfree’s short but explosive drum solo is a major treat and the band’s fat, noisy finale is like the cherry placed on top of a chocolate sundae.
If you don’t have any specimens of jazzy swing and jump blues in your stacks then you need to procure a copy of this album ASAP. The clever song titles alone should prick your interest! I’m pretty sure this was a one-time venture for Joe Jackson, completed in an effort to preserve a lot of phenomenal music he adored and to save the legacy of black big band leaders like Louis Jordan from sinking tragically into total oblivion. I’m extremely glad he did it because this album is a blast. Not only are the tunes terrific but the unadulterated joy that emanates from this dedicated group of musicians is something not found all that often and it makes listening to them ply their craft a delightful experience that doesn’t grow stale over the years. It’s the kind of record you could play for anyone and tell them unequivocally, “Now, this is what is meant by COOL!”