Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 26 August 1899, Oklahoma City OK; d 8 June 1972, NYC) (The birth date according to census records) A blues singer who could actually sing anything, 'Mr Five By Five' on account of his generous girth; his powerful voice, happy spirit and unsurpassable swing inseparable from the classic Count Basie band of the late 1930s. His parents were both musicians; he studied music theory in high school; attended Wilberforce U in Ohio but dropped out, moved to the West Coast, worked outside music but occasionally with Jelly Roll Morton at house parties etc and as a singing pianist in clubs; toured with Walter Page '25, returned to Oklahoma City to work in his father's cafe but left with Page's Blue Devils '28-9 and made his first records with them on Vocalion. He toured with Bennie Moten '29-35 (recorded '31), then with Basie from '35: Basie later said it was Rushing's optimism that kept him going when the road was rough. He sang on the Jones-Smith Inc. session '36, a classic Basie small-group session produced by John Hammond that was Lester Young's first; 'Boogie-Woogie' (aka 'I May Be Wrong') and 'Evenin' ' were Rushing classics for ever after. Basie records on Decca with Rushing vocals included 'The Blues I Love To Hear', 'Do You Wanna Jump Children', 'Good Morning Blues', 'Sent For You Yesterday And Here You Come Today' (last two co-written by Rushing, Basie nd Eddie Durham), also the occasional ballad in swinging style ('Exactly Like You'), many others '37-8, more on Columbia, then RCA '47-50 ('After You've Gone', 'Brand New Wagon', novelty 'Did You Ever See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball', others). Air checks of 'Dinah', 'Flat Foot Floogie' '37 are widely available.

He tried to retire to South Carolina after Basie broke up his first band '50, but 'I knew the first time I heard a band come through town I'd be finished. It happened and one night I told my wife we were packing our bags and going to New York.' He led his own band briefly; a 10-inch Vanguard LP Jimmy Rushing Sings The Blues '54 re-created classics including 'Goin' To Chicago' (then also being sung by Joe Williams with Basie), sidemen inclcluding Page, Jo Jones, Buddy Tate; 12-inch LPs included Listen To The Blues (the Vanguard material compiled on two-disc The Essential Jimmy Rushing, also on French Vogue). Columbia LPs produced by Hammond began with Cat Meets Chick, continued into the stereo era: The Jazz Odyssey Of James Rushing Esq. inclcluded 'Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More', accompanying himself on the piano (with Page, Jones) as he did in KC; also Rushing Lullabies (later on a K-Tel CD), Jimmy Rushing And The Big Brass, The Smith Girls (songs associated with Bessie, Clara, Mamie and Trixie), all with appropriate backing by a studio band led by Buck Clayton, including Basie alumni and other mainstream veterans.

He also recorded with Dave Brubeck. He was reunited with Basie, Young and Jones at the Newport Jazz Festival '57, tracks released on Verve; again in '62 on film. Other LPs: Blues And Things '67 with the Earl Hines Quartet, Budd Johnson guesting; Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You? and Who Was It Sang That Song? with Jones, Clayton, Dicky Wells, Julian Dash on tenor, Gene Ramey on bass and Sir Charles Thompson, all '67 on Master Jazz; also The You And Me That Used To Be on RCA (it was overproduced and he sounded lost in its slickness). The Scene: Live in New York, released on High Note in 2009, is the closest we'll get to a live show, compiling tracks including some from the Half Note with Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Dave Frishberg.

He appeared in films with Basie including soundies Take Me Back Baby and Air Mail Special '41, short Choo Choo Swing, feature Funzapoppin' '43 (aka Crazy House); also in TV special The Sound Of Jazz '57, the sixth segment of a 13-part series The Subject Is Jazz '58; film Monterey Jazz '73 (from '70 festival); he had an acting/singing role in The Learning Tree '69.

Asked which singers he admired, he allegedly replied, 'Oh, I like Perry Como, Bing Crosby...' The interviewer obviously puzzled, he added, 'You see, I love music.'