SUPERSONIC - The Forgotten Stepfather of Rock & Roll ©JCMarion


Everyone knows that R & B begat Rock and Roll ("Rhythm and Blues had a baby and they named it Rock and Roll"), but many people are not quite that sure where the foundation of R & B came from. Most so-called experts are agreed upon three sources - (1) The Boogie Woogie craze of the late thirties to early forties which exposed a lot of listeners to the rolling eight to the bar rhythm accented by 2/4 beat (or in the case of the boogie, a 4/8 beat). from the great piano practitioners like Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, and Albert Ammons, to the big band versions by Will Bradley, Tommy Dorsey, and the vocals by the Andrews Sisters. (2) The great cross over appeal of Louis Jordan which produced massive hit records with the boogie shuffle beat of his small combo such as "Choo Choo 'chBoogie", and "Caldonia", and led to a direct link with the R&B classics of the late 40s. (3) The beginnings of the electrified urban blues which was a byproduct of the large northern migration of Southern Blacks in search of defense plant work. The archetype combo was the Muddy Waters Blues Band of the mid1940s.

There is a fourth source of the R & B explosion that has been overlooked by most music historians-most but not all. This is the popularity of a sub-genre of jazz music that I have chosen to call "supersonic". This style of music is part swing, part boogie woogie, and part bebop. Its personality is defined by the lead instrument in this style, the tenor saxophone. This is the horn that most closely resembles the sound of human emotions, and the sound of the tenor sax in this style is its defining characteristic. It began in 1944, and it had run its course by the dawn of the next decade. But in those six years it has left a legacy of style and excitement rarely equaled, and some critics and historians have called it the "missing link" between the big bands and rock and roll.

The birth of Supersonic came about from an idea by jazz personality Norman Granz. His thought was to present a free wheeling concert that attempted to present in a concert hall, what often transpired in after hours jazz clubs around the country-the true jam session or "cutting" contest. The show would feature all out "go for broke" solos and friendly competition among the musicians. A second, and equally important aim of these concerts was to break down the walls of racial segregation in mid 40s America, and this was to be confronted by refusing to play before racially separated audiences, and to present musicians of all races and cultures on stage.

The very first presentation of these musical jam sessions was held in Los Angeles in 1944 at Philharmonic Hall. Because of the significant venue, the show was called "Jazz At The Philharmonic". Although they were not invited back by the stuffed shirt management of the Hall, the name remained for all subsequent concerts even though they were held in such places as The Shrine Auditorium in L.A., The Chicago Opera House, and New York's Carnegie Hall. These shows commonly known as JATP from then on, spurred imitators such as Gene Norman's Just Jazz, and various One Night Stand shows. Many famous musicians took part, but the core group were spirited session men from Los Angeles and veterans of the big band years.

I first heard one of these recordings way back in 1950 on a 12 inch 78 on the Clef label. The blasting music and the raucous crowd reactions was like nothing I had ever heard before. The wild solos, moments of brilliant soloists interspersed with crowd pleasing musical gymnastics, were certainly not the type of tunes you could hear on the radio. I was totally fascinated with the sound of the entire event, and can readily see over the course of the intervening 50 years how this period in musical history can be linked to the development of rock and roll.

What follows now, is my take on this mostly forgotten style and the events that transpired to present this music, and to keep alive the memory of the music and the musicians. In giving tribute to the founders of the Rhythm and Blues tradition you must start at the beginning, and this beginning has been left out of the history of just how rock music began. Forgotten until NOW -

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