Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five [DVD]

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This 48-minute tribute to Louis Jordan, generated in conjunction with the success of Five Guys Named Moe, and Jordan's later induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is a combination biography and performance clip showcase; absent of any interviews with surviving contemporaries, but with a narrative style that jumps around a bit, and a selection of footage limited to public domain films, it's really more the latter than an actual biography -- but it is lots of fun, and within the obvious limits of budget and time, it strikes a decent balance. The documentary footage includes shots of Bert Williams -- Jordan's early inspiration -- in action, and extremely early footage of Louis Armstrong singing "Shine"; all while covering Jordan's early career. Virtually all of the Jordan visuals from before 1940 are still-shots, as his band was too small to justify extensive film footage -- the first "real" footage of the group comes with the short film of Five Guys Named Moe, which is in decent shape but a little dark and grainy. "G.I. Jive" is in much better shape, and when one gets to "Caldonia" from a short feature, the DVD starts jumping. As the narrator points out, that clip transcended its origins as a "soundie," getting booked into movie theaters catering to black audiences around the country; it was often responsible for pulling in more people than the main feature did. It led to Jordan's appearance in films, including the performance clip of "Caldonia" here, and it's easy to appreciate the mix of musical virtuosity, charisma, and sexuality on display as Jordan plays his sax for an admiring female. We get to see him as the serious lead vocalist on "Honey Chile," and there are performance clips of Dinah Washington -- a Jordan discovery -- and also of Nat King Cole performing a Jordan song. The details aren't too involved or overwhelming, though the narrator does us the courtesy of covering Jordan's career up and into the 1970s. It's not a definitive portrait by any means, but Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five is a handy, relatively low-priced glimpse into the history of this exceptionally gifted and influential musician. Oh, and the disc gets a dozen chapter markers, one for each major performance clip, all accessible off of an easy-to-use menu, and the audio quality is excellent, even if a good deal of the performance footage has scratches and other defects to varying degrees (hey, if Jordan would be amazed that his music was still well-known in the 21st century, the makers of these clips would be flabbergasted that they were still generating revenue for someone this late in the game).