35 Years Ago: Joe Jackson Swings Back to the ‘40s on ‘Jumpin’ Jive’
In the mid-‘90s, the success of the movie Swingers caused a handful of bands to ride a wave of nostalgia for their grandparents’ music and bring back the swing and jump blues music of the ‘40s. What many people might not have known is that they were beaten to the punch by about 15 years by Joe Jackson, who released Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive in June 1981.
The difference between Jackson’s approach and that of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies was that the new groups were putting the music into the framework of ironic alternative rock, while Jackson went for authenticity. He covered 12 songs made famous by such legends of the era as Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway.
To accomplish this, he moved from piano to vibraphone, kept bassist Graham Maby from his band and recruited a horn section — Dave Vitelli (tenor sax and clarinet), Raul Olivera (trumpet) and Pete Thomas (alto sac) — drummer Larry Tolfree and pianist Nick Weldon. He put his formal training at London’s Royal Academy of Music to good use, collaborating on the charts with the horn players.
According to Jackson, it happened quite unexpectedly. “Around 1981 I was quite sick for a while and I swear my recovery was due partly to listening to old Louis Jordan records,” he wrote on his website. “I never planned to do a jump-blues/swing project; it snowballed from ‘Let’s get a few guys together and do a few pub gigs for a laugh’ to an EP and then to an album and a tour. All in all a little musical vacation, from which I returned refreshed.”
The benefits of the vacation were evident. Jackson’s previous album, Beat Crazy, was his third in a year-and-a-half and suffered from a lack of material. But freed from the pressures of having to write another batch of songs, he lets loose as a singer, particularly on the title track, “Jack, You’re Dead” and “Five Guys Named Moe,” where he provides a scat solo. The exceptions are a handful of tracks — namely Calloway’s “San Francisco Fan,” Jordan’s "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)" and Louis Armstrong’s “You Run Your Mouth (and I'll Run My Business),” where he appears to be affecting a character rather than being himself.
The rest of the band rises to the occasion. Tolfree’s drums keep the beat percolating throughout, and the horns are excellent, especially on “You’re My Meat,” "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby,” while Maby solidifies his status as one of the most underrated bassists in rock.
Jumpin’ Jive hit No. 14 in the U.K. and No. 42 in the U.S., respectable numbers given that it was a left turn from the reggae-influenced New Wave he’d recorded on his first three efforts. Jackson wouldn’t dive this deeply into jazz again until The Duke, his 2012 collection of Duke Ellington songs, but it would heavily inform his subsequent albums, his 1982 love letter to New York City, Night and Day, and its follow-up, Body and Soul.
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