Blues and Jazz have crossed paths many times during this century. Many musicians walk the fence between the two and fans and critics of both fields of music enjoy their talents. This is not surprising knowing that Jazz really grew out of Blues music. Blues might be considered the earliest form of Jazz.
Over the years, many Jazz musicians played Blues with Jazz elements added. You hear the Blues in the music of Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Duke Wellington and Count Basie, to name just a few; however, information about them and their music is found in Jazz publications.
Then, there is Jimmy Rushing. Unlike the previously mentioned artists, he is written about in both Jazz and Blues publications. Jimmy is a Blues singer in much the same way as Jimmy Witherspoon; however, the instrumentation of much of their work is Jazz-based. Jimmy Rushing came from the Jazz scene, playing piano and singing with Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, and with Count Basie.
James Andrew Rushing was born on August 26, 1902 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father, Andrew Rushing, and his mother, Cora Freeman, were both both musicians. 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 both his school and church choirs.
During the summer (and sometimes during the school year) Jimmy hoboed all around the Midwest, from down south in Texas to as far north as Chicago. After high school, he went to Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He dropped out after a couple of years and moved to Los Angeles. He usually worked in non-music jobs. Occasionally, he worked with Jelly Roll Morton at private parties or night clubs, such as the Quality Night Club and the Jump Steady Club. In 1925, he toured in the Billy King Road Show for a spell.
Jimmy was not happy with his life in L.A. and in 1926 he moved back to Oklahoma City to work in his father's cafe. After a year and a half of working in the cafe, Jimmy went back to music. He joined up with Walter Page's Blue Devils, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jimmy knew Walter when they played together with Billy King. He played on Walter's Vocalion records session in Kansas City in 1929.
The Kansas City visit opened the door to his musical future. He joined Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra and played all over the country. He also played on Bennie's Victor recordings up through the middle 1930's. In 1935, he joined up with Count Basie, one of the most popular musical acts in the country. Their relationship continued for the next 15 years. They played and recorded together and, in 1936, they recorded with Benny Goodman and Johnny Otis. Some of the best Basie material has Jimmy on it. His voice was the icing on a great cake. The Count Basie Orchestra appeared in a number of films including Crazy House, Take Me Back Baby, Air Mail Special and film shorts, Big Name Bands No. 1 and Choo Choo Swing. Jimmy was in all these, as well as the 1943 film Top Man. He also played at the famed "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1938.
Jimmy was a natural born entertainer. When he performed he was very animated and always had a smile on his face. Audiences loved him - both live and on the movie screen. Around 1950, Jimmy began to perform more on his own. In 1954, he and Count Basie appeared on the Tonight Show (Steve Allen was the host). His own recording output escalated, recording for Columbia, Okeh, King, Vanguard, and Jazztone during the 1950's. He also worked with many other musicians, Including Buck Clayton, Frank Culley and Benny Goodman. In 1958, he and Benny Goodman performed together at the World's Fair in Brussels and the Newport Jazz Festival.
During the 1960's Jimmy was busier than ever. He performed all over the world with Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Eddie Condon, Harry James Orchestra, Joe Newman and off and on with Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Always a crowd pleaser, he was booked by most of the major Jazz festivals and venues. He appeared on several PBS-TV shows and also made an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show.
Jimmy became ill in 1971 and his performing almost ceased. On June 8, 1972, he died of leukemia at the Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City. He is buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery, Kew Gardens, in Queens.
Jimmy is recognized as one of the finest singers of any style of music of this century. The British music magazine Melody Maker picked him "Best Male Singer" for 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960 in their Critic's Poll. The German magazine Jazz Podium named him "Best Male Jazz Vocalist." He won Downbeat Magazine's International Critic's Poll as "Best Male Singer" in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1072. THey also picked his 1972 release "The You and Me That Used To Be" "Record of the Year". The list goes on and on. He was simply amazing!