Joe Jordan (11 February 1882, Cincinnati,
Ohio - 11 September 1971, Tacoma, Washington) was an African
American musician and composer. Jordan was born in
Cincinnati, Ohio, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and received musical training at the Lincoln
Institute (now Lincoln University) in Jefferson City, Missouri.
In 1900, young Joe performed as fiddler and percussionist with the
Taborian Band of St. Louis. He also appeared with Tom Turpin
, and Louis Chauvin
singing four piano act. In 1902, he went to New York City to collaborate with Ernest
Hogan, known in show business as "The Unbleached
At the beginning of the 20th century, much of the entertainment
industry was founded upon the exploitation of ethnic stereotypes.
Hogan's big hit was called "All Coons Look Alike To Me", and the
stage show that he andJordan cooked up was "Rufus Rastus". Another
example of the prevalent racial thematic was "Dandy Coon",created
by Chauvin and Patterson in 1903. Jordan stage-managed and directed
the music for this bit ofminstrelsy, which toured with a cast of
thirty including a "beautiful octoroon chorus".
show disbanded in Des Moines, Iowa, Jordan left for Chicago.
performing at the Pekin, a former casino/saloon at 27th and State
that had been converted into a beer garden by Robert T. Motts. This
location became the "Pekin Theater Stock Company" featuring many
African American performers.
The "Pekin Theater Stock Company"
Jordan commemorated this hot spot with the "Pekin Rag", published
in 1904. He briefly returned to St. Louis in order to play the
Faust Restaurant at the 1904
St. Louis World's Fair
. Now known as an expert at rapid
orchestration on demand, Jordan returned to New York in 1905 to
work with Ernest Hogan and James
at organizing and directing the Memphis Students,
a group of seventeen African-American men and women who were not
students, nor were they from Memphis. In the spring of 1905, they
premiered at Proctor's 23rd Street Theater.
James Weldon Johnson
this "playing-singing-dancing orchestra" was "the first modern jazz
band ever heard on a New York stage". Instrumentally, the ensemble
contained saxophones, brass, banjos, guitars, mandolins, piano and
drums. Later in 1905, they played Paris, London, and other
major European cities.
Jordan composed "Rise and Shine",
"Oh, Liza Lady", "Goin' To Exit", and "Dixie Land" for this group.
He also wrote the "J.J.J. Rag".
Back in Chicago, Motts' establishment was developing into an
all-purpose entertainment center, known locally as the Pekin Temple
of Music. In 1906 Motts expanded his operation by erecting the
Pekin Theatre right on top of the existing "Temple". With the
opening of the enlarged Pekin (one of America's first
African-American-owned theatres) on 31
, the South Side of Chicago began
to transform itself into a launching pad for the jazz explosion of
1915-1925. Jordan conducted the 16-piece house orchestra and served
as composer and musical director, all for a weekly salary of
In New York, Jordan wrote a couple of songs for Ada Overton Walker
, first "Salome's
Dance" and then in 1909 "That Teasin' Rag". Its main theme was used
by The Original
Dixieland Jazz Band
on their 1917 recording the "Original
Dixieland One Step". When Jordan heard the record, he filed suit.
All copies of the records were recalled, and the label was changed
to include the phrase "introducing ‘That Teasin' Rag' by Joe
"The Red Moon" With Cole and Johnson
Also in 1909, Jordan collaborated with Bob Cole
and J. Rosamond Johnson
on The Red
, a Broadway operetta
convention by having persons of
color perform serious romantic songs, expressing realistic human
emotion. This was something apparently not permitted, especially
outside of New York City. In 1910, Jordan wrote "Lovie Joe" for
. Barred as a black man from
entering the theater where Brice premiered the song, Jordan was
forced to stand outside on the pavement and heard the public
demanding eight encores.
European Tours and "Keep Shufflin'"
went to Germany in 1911 with
King and Bailey's Chocolate Drops. On his way back he
performed his way through England.
Landing at the Pekin in Chicago once again, he resumed his duties
there for about three years. His songs dating from this period
include "Dat's Ma Honey Sho's Yo' Born", "Oh Say Wouldn't It Be a
Dream" and "Brother-In-Law Dan". He did very well in Chicago's real
estate market, and in 1917, he built the J. Jordan Building at the
corner of 36th and State. In 1918-19, he was assistant director and
financial advisor for Will Marion
's New York Syncopated Orchestra.
In 1928, Jordan conducted a band made up of Jabbo Smith
, James P. Johnson
, and Thomas
in the musical revue Keep Shufflin'
Jordan's touring band was called the Ten Sharps and Flats. He
conducted the Federal Theatre
's Negro Unit Orchestra in New York during the 30's.
From 14 April
, Jordan worked with Johnson,
, and Asadata Dafora
providing music for the
Federal Theatre Project production of Shakespeare's Macbeth
directed by Orson Welles
at the New Lafayette Theatre
Jordan led a symphony orchestra augmented by a 350-voice chorus at
He composed songs in collaboration with W. C. Handy
, led military bands during World War II
and ran a successful real estate
business in Tacoma, Washington, where he died on 11 September