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Mr. Five By Five Was A Five Star Artist

William P. Gottlieb
Library of Congress - Public Domain
Jimmy Rushing, Aquarium, NYC, circa August, 1946.

Was Blues and Swing Jazz singer Jimmy Rushing fat? Well, it might be impolite to say so, but Harry James did have a hit with his song about Rushing titled “Mr. Five by Five.”

James Andrew Rushing was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1901. Before he died in 1972 he made a real impact on both the Blues and Jazz. The main reason for that is the influence he had on the great Count Basie, in whose band Rushing played from 1935 to 1948.

Rushing’s parents and brother were his early musical influences, with his father playing trumpet and mother and brother both being singers. Rushing wandered the Western and mid-Western U.S. as a street Blues singer in 1923 & 1924. It was when he moved to Los Angeles in 1925 that he got perhaps his greatest mentoring from none other than Jelly Roll Morton, whose business card carried the modest claim “Inventor of Jazz.”

Among the bands Rushing sang and played sax with before he moved up to Basie were Billy King, and Bennie Moten. Then after the death of Moten in 1935 Jimmy Rushing began his 13 year stay with Count Basie.

It was the influence of Moten that made Jimmy a proponent of the Kansas City Jump Blues style and his subsequent influence on Count Basie could be heard in the Basie Bands from the late 1930s on. Rushing’s work with the Count Basie Orchestra is best represented by their recordings of "Sent for You Yesterday" and "Boogie Woogie."


After leaving Basie in 1948, Rushing worked with a who’s who of both Jazz and Blues and wherever Jimmy went he left a Blues tinge the same way Jelly Roll touched much of his work with what he called “the Spanish tinge.” That sound left a mark on most all he worked with.

Duke Ellington got his dose of Rushing’s Kansas City and Jelly Roll Morton influences when he and Rushing recorded the 1959 album Jazz Party.


Given their divergent sounds it seems odd that Rushing would have recorded a 1960 album with those paragons of Cool Jazz, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, but Jazz critic Scott Yanow called Brubeck and Rushing - The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Jimmy Rushing "a surprising success." Although I only heard it once about 40 years ago, I regretted not picking it up until I Googled t this past week and found out it is available again. I’ll be correcting my past mistake soon.

While he may have been obese, Jimmy Rushing’s career extended from the early 1920s until his passing from leukemia in 1972. Now his music lives on and we’ll enjoy the title track from his 1958 album If This Ain’t the Blues this week on the Nine O’clock Blues.


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