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KING 4446; MAY 1951



Ambition is a good thing to have in life but for musicians there are different kinds of ambition and they’re not always compatible.

The primary ambition is to be successful, which usually means adhering to the dominant traits in already established formats. But there’s also musical ambition which can only be exhibited by breaking away from those established formats… or at least re-imagining them.

Here the ambitious party might not have been the man whose name was on the record sitting behind the piano, but rather the man who wrote the song and is blowing the trumpet in addition to producing the record.


Hustled And Bustled
Since giving up his spot in Lucky Millinder’s band and joining King Records as one of the first black producers in the industry, Henry Glover has been invaluable for the company.

Not only did he write countless hits for their artists, but he shaped how those songs sounded, deciding what to emphasize and what to downplay in their quest for commercial success.

But while he had a free hand in the studio and was working with artists from every walk of music, from black rock acts to white country singers, instrumentalists and vocalists alike, he had to be feeling creatively restless by now. Musical progress can seem awfully slow when you’re down in the trenches working off the components of the most recent hits in a given field.

Generally speaking you tweak formulas rather than overhaul them and so one session to the next it all sort of blended together. Yet somewhere inside Glover there were ideas waiting to be set free.

In Sonny Thompson he had an ideal candidate for experimentation as the pianist was past the days of being expected to churn out big hits which meant the commercial failure of one of these more ambitious ideas wouldn’t be seen as a disaster. Furthermore Sonny was a bandleader, someone used to deferring to others, be it other musicians or singers, and so Glover knew that he wouldn’t be diametrically opposed to cutting something like Jumping With The Rhumba featuring a guest vocal turn by somebody else.

Since the flip side would prominently feature Thompson’s piano on an instrumental – the compelling Gone Again Blues – this side would be something of an afterthought to the company… yet would be a chance for Glover to stretch his legs a little on something decidedly different than what he was stuck doing day after day in his quest for hits.

Took Me Around
This is hardly the first time the rhumba has entered into rock circles, as it was a dance – and rhythm – that had been captivating people drawn to its exotic nature since the 1930’s. Though the rhumba craze had largely died down by the dawn of the 1950’s, it spawned later Latin American dance music such as the mambo which would start to make waves very shortly and it was still widely known so Glover had a firm foundation to start with here.

The basic description of it is a big band variation with Afro-Cuban rhythms and seeing as how Glover came up as the big band era was splintering into smaller outfits he knew the best of both worlds and saw how it might be adaptable in rock ‘n’ roll.

For a vocalist he enlisted Jesse Edwards, an expressive singer who seems to be having a lot of fun Jumping With The Rhumba, breaking out various voices – including impersonating his exotic date – at different times. The syncopated delivery is the defining characteristic of the song, something which has been seen before and will continue to be seen in the future, making this sound vaguely familiar even the first time you cue it up.

Though Glover was clearly intrigued by the musical possibilities presented here, it’s the lyrics that are of special interest as it starts by issuing a throwdown to Paul Williams by dissing The Hucklebuck, the first rock dance craze and still the biggest instrumental to come along in the first three and a half years of the genre, before the song goes on to paint a pretty vivid picture that suggests guys like Jerry Leiber must’ve been taking notes as Edwards describes his night on the town with a woman who takes him to all the hottest night spots where music, dancing and comedy ensues.

It’s the same kind of snapshot travelogue that rock would define itself with over the years, presenting colorful characters and scenes in a compacted framework to give the listener the impression that they were coming along for the ride. The chorus might be the least interesting aspect of the entire record – which might be why Edwards raises his voice and trills the “r” the first time when he says “la rhumba” – thereby guaranteeing there’s not many moments where you won’t be paying attention just to see where they head next – lyrically and vocally.

Oh yeah… musically too. Let’s not forget about Sonny Thompson and the band.


Everybody’s Jumpin’
Since one of the distinctive attributes of rhumbas musically was the presence of trumpets, it’s hardly a shock to find Glover picking up his old instrument and joining in. Since moving into a producer’s role he hadn’t had many opportunities to play, but here gets his chance – hell, maybe that’s why he wrote the song, to give himself that chance – and the only surprise is he didn’t include a soloing spot for his horn.

The horns are ubiquitous nonetheless however, whether it’s the saxes riffing or his trumpet playing off them in the background. It’s the rhythm though that is front and center with drummer Bill English standing out in the group setting.

We do get some solos in Jumping With The Rhumba in case you were wondering, the first of which is given to Thompson, maybe so he won’t complain he’s being left out of his own record. It’s sort of a fractured playing style he’s using here, skittering around the treble keys rather than trying to incorporate his left hand into the already established rhythms.

Much better however is the second solo which belongs to guitarist William Shingler who had already been one of the more interesting backing sounds with his edgier tones earlier in this song. His solo though takes it one step further with a winding run that seems simultaneously fast paced and meandering, a neat trick that keeps the record in gear but has you anticipating what’s to follow.

It really could’ve used a third solo for the horns, be it the sax or Glover’s trumpet, to sort of act as the frantic climax of the night on the town, but even without it the song is never less than captivating for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is the competency of everyone involved, all doing their part to make this distinctive.

Grabbed My Hand And Pulled Me On The Floor
Of course this kind of thing, even done well, is hardly a seamless fit in rock ‘n’ roll, though they manage to have it conform to the parameters of the style without betraying its conceptual origins in the process.

As such Jumping With The Rhumba is more of an experimental oddity than a serious effort to drastically change rock’s direction.

But it’s a good left field entry into Thompson’s canon, even if this one was more of a Henry Glover record than anything. Certainly though Thompson was more than adaptable to taking these kinds of chances himself and any musician wanting to stretch out just a little was bound to appreciate the effort at self-expression in the face of the usual commercial expectations that defined the industry.

Amusing in its story and performance, interesting in its musical adaption, yet not altogether out of place in a rock playlist either, this is one that you’re glad they got a chance to do just so that when they were forced to conform to the prevailing styles of the day on other sessions they weren’t doing it with a sense of hopeless resignation.


(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Thompson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)