Born: August 26, 1903 | Died: June 8, 1972 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
“Mr. Five by Five”
Jimmy Rushing established a style of singing that epitomized swing: he created a wonderful tension between band and vocalist by singing ahead of or behind the beat and toyed with the rhythm. He was a blues singer and a jazz singer, and his ability to work within both styles had an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of popular music vocalists.
Jimmy Rushing was born on August 26, 1902 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father, Andrew Rushing, and his mother, Cora Freeman, were both musicians,and they were a big influence on him. The first instrument he learned was the violin. While at Douglass High School, he studied music theory. Through the encouragement of his uncle Wesley Manning (who played and sang at a local sporting house), Jimmy took up playing piano. He also sang in school and church choirs, and spent his summers traveling throughout the Midwest. After high school, he went to Wilberforce University in Ohio, realized it wasn’t for him, dropped out after a couple of years and moved to Los Angeles.
He did his share of odd jobs, but drifted into the music scene where he met and sang with Jelly Roll Morton at private parties or night clubs. In 1925, he toured in the Billy King Road Show for a spell, and then moved back to Oklahoma City to work in his father's café. By 1927 he joined up with Walter Page's Blue Devils, whose piano player was a young Bill Basie. Jimmy knew Walter Page from his days with Billy King. He appeared on Page’s Vocalion records session in Kansas City in 1929, but the band broke up shortly after. Basie and Jimmy, and Walter Page joined Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, which was the hottest band in Kansas City. . He was the vocalist on Moten’s Victor recordings up through the mid ‘30's. In 1935 Bennie Moten died, and Bill Basie formed his own band with many of the musicians from Moten’s band, Jimmy Rushing was the singer. The band became the Barons of Rhythm, which had their own way of playing, their own beat, in what was to be “Kansas City Swing”, and nobody did it better. They signed on an extended engagement at the Club Reno, in Kansas City, which led to radio broadcasts and recording contracts with Decca. The band become the Count Basie Orchestra and swung their way into jazz history.
Jimmy Rushing was a man of prodigious energies and appetites. He was known to do a full evening of singing with the band, and then spend all night carousing and wandering around Kansas City until daylight. His volume, ebullience, and drive unquestionably drew much from the propulsive backing of the Basie band, over whose instruments he soared with ease. He belongs among the most important singers in jazz. His voice was clearly different from the rural, musically uneducated blues musicians whose style often compares more to hollering than singing. Rushing used a technique of singing developed in the blues as well as the religious musical traditions of shouting a sudden start of a phrase, often begun on a high and especially loud note, then falling dynamically as well as melodically, often being repeated to further strengthen the intensity of its effect. He was a blues shouter with a big, intense, high pitched voice, with a measure of hoarseness, melody and vibrato. The Count Basie Orchestra was the perfect vehicle for the unique talents of Jimmy Rushing. His physical presence, jovial personality, showmanship and ability to swing, really kicked the band into a higher gear. Being the front man for a big band is no easy task, but he was a natural at it.
Their first recording was “Boogie Woogie” in 1936, which established the band’s sound as one more blues based than what others were doing. Basie preferred a repertoire of strongly blues influenced pieces, whether original blues tunes or sentimental songs with a blues tinge. The band had popular successes in the late 1930s and 1940s, among them titles like Evenin' (1936), Good Morning Blues (1937),”Sent for you Yesterday” (1938) I Want a Little Girl (1940), Goin' to Chicago Blues and Harvard Blues (1941). He stayed with Basie until 1950, and then led his own septet for two years performing at New York's Savoy Ballroom.
In the 1950s and 1960s he recorded albums with swing musicians in the mainstream style of the period, yet not straying far from his blues. He did sessions for a several labels as Vanguard and Columbia, working together with the likes of Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Buddy Tate and others. In 1958 he toured with Benny Goodman, recording “Brussels Blues” while in Europe, an excellent record. He did sessions with Duke Ellington on the recording “Jazz Party”, as well as other dates with various Basie alumni.
In 1960 he sang with the Dave Brubeck Quartet at New York's Basin Street East. He sustained a reputable and constant schedule of tours and recordings throughout the ‘60’s and did some good albums for Bluesway in ’67 and ’68, which were reissued as “Everyday I Have the Blues”(Impulse). His recordings whether with Count Basie or as a solo artist, have always been popular and are continually being reissued, proof that his bigger than life persona has carried over into his music and transformed him into a perpetual star.
A true showman, Jimmy Rushing continued to perform right up until his death on June 8, 1972.
Source: James Nadal