One of my all-time favorite recording artists, someone whose music I return to often, is Louis Jordan. Subject for a master’s thesis: discuss and address the fact that a huge number of Jordan’s lyrics can only be described as misogynistic. And that is true of the lyrics in our song today, “If You Can’t Smile and Say Yes (Please Don’t Cry and Say No).” One bottom line, however, is that I do not shy away from sharing good music whose lyrics, written almost 80 years ago, might not be appropriate today, despite far, far worse heard in contemporary music. And there is certainly good music to be heard here.
“OK, Mark, blah blah blah. Now tell us about the Soundie.” Louis Jordan can be seen and heard in 17 Soundies, such with his popularity with both black and white audiences. Of this output, if we exclude two medleys that have yet to turn up, ten were produced specifically for Panoram viewers, and five excerpted from the black cast short subject Caledonia.
Interestingly enough, while Jordan broadcast this particular tune often, he never recorded it. That honor went to Nat “King” Cole, although Will Friedwald discredits the thought that it was written for Cole by comedian/songwriter Timmie Rogers. (Rogers happens to receive the sole composer credit in the Soundies paperwork.) The label of Cole’s Capitol release, however, clearly credits both Rogers and Louis Jordan.
The Jordan session from January 1944 is an especially swinging affair, partly because this was a regular working group in which everyone was aware of his and each bandmate’s role in the music. Then there is the presence of drummer “Shadow” Wilson, an important figure in early modern jazz. While “If You Can’t Smile and Say Yes” is written in the standard 32-bar popular song format, the blues is nevertheless at the foundation, echoed in Louis’s vocal and alto saxophone, and in the trumpet work of Eddy Roane. While many would argue that the dancer, currently unidentified, is unnecessary and obtrusive, keep in mind that maintaining visual interest in what was seen on screen was a crucial part of the production.
Louis Jordan rarely, if ever, disappoints in the 1940s, and this danceable presentation is a Soundie to be revisited often.