Best known as “Mister Five by Five”—an affectionate reference to his diminutive height and considerable girth—Jimmy Rushing established himself as one of the greatest singers in the history of jazz. Closely associated with Count Basie’s band for about 15 years, Rushing artfully blended the soulfulness of the blues with jazz stylings, creating a sound that was uniquely his own. In the final two decades of his life, Rushing split his time between solo performances and collaborations with some of the best-known artists in the jazz world. He was widely recorded as both a solo artist and as a vocalist with the orchestras of such notable bandleaders as Benny Goodman, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, and Count Basie.
He was born James Andrew Rushing on August 26, 1903 (1902, according to some sources) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, son of Andrew and Cora (Freeman). Rushing. He came from a musical family—his father played the trumpet; his mother, a homemaker, was a pianist and a soloist in the church choir; his brother played the piano, as did his uncle (for a local bordello). As a boy, Rushing sang with his mother in the church choir and studied the violin. Influenced heavily by his uncle, Wesley Manning, who played the piano and sang, Rushing later abandoned the violin in favor of the piano. While attending Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, he studied music theory and sang in the school glee club.
After completing high school Rushing attended Wilber-force University in Wilberforce, Ohio, but dropped out after a couple of years. He headed west to Los Angeles, working at first mostly outside the music field. He later began to appear occasionally with Jelly Roll Morton at house parties in Southern California and then started picking up jobs as a singer/pianist at local clubs, including the Jump Steady Club and the Quality Night Club. In 1925 he toured with the Billy King Revue.
Life in Los Angeles proved unsatisfying however, and in 1926 he went home to Oklahoma City to work in his father’s restaurant. After about 18 months, though, he’d had enough of the food service industry and returned to music. Rushing headed to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he joined the Blue Devils band of Walter Page, whom he’d met while touring with Billy King. When the Blue Devils traveled in 1929 to Kansas City for a recording session on the Vocalion label, Rushing went with them. It was not only his first recording session, but an important turning point in his life.
While in Kansas City, Rushing met Bennie Moten, leader of Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra. Shortly thereafter he left the Blue Devils and joined Moten’s orchestra as a pianist and singer. Performing in and around Kansas City during his years with Moten, Rushing became the best known of the so-called blues shouters. It was said that his somewhat nasal, tenor voice, high-pitched and penetrating, could be heard
Born James Andrew Rushing on August 26, 1903 (1902, according to some sources) in Oklahoma City, OK; died on June 8, 1972, in New York, NY; son of Andrew (a trumpet player) and Cora (Freeman) Rushing (a homemaker and church singer). Education: Studied at Wilberforce University, Ohio.
Studied music theory in high school; moved to Los Angeles, early 1920s; appeared occasionally with Jelly Roll Morton and toured in the Billy King Road Show; returned to Oklahoma City to work in his father’s cafe, 1926; returned to music after about 18 months, joining Walter Page’s Blue Devils in Little Rock, AR; played with Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra during the first half of the 1930s; joined Count Basie’s band, with which he performed for the next 15 years, 1935; began to appear more frequently as a solo performer after 1950, although he still performed often with such leading jazz artists as Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Eddie Condon, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck; appeared in numerous music festivals, 1960s.
Awards: Melody Maker Critics Poll, Best Male Singer, 1957-60; Down Beat International Critics Poll, Best Male Singer, 1958-60, 1972; Down Beat International Critics Poll, Record of the Year for The You & Me That Used to Be, 1972.
blocks away, sailing clearly above the band’s accompaniment. He toured and recorded with Moten’s group until 1935 when Moten died. Not long thereafter he joined Count Basie’s band as featured vocalist. For the next 15 years he remained with Basie’s orchestra, one of the most popular musical acts in the country.
It was during his years with Basie that Rushing perfected the distinctive style for which he would be known for the rest of his life. In 1936 Basie and Rushing recorded with Benny Goodman and Johnny Otis. While performing with Basie, Rushing appeared with the rest of the band in a number of motion pictures, including Crazy House, Air Mail Special, and Take Me Back, Baby, as well as the film shorts, Choo Choo Swing and Big Name Bands No. 1. During his years with Basie, some of the songs most closely associated with Rushing included “Evenin’,” “Boogie-Woogie” (also known as “I May Be Wrong”), “The Blues I Love to Hear,” and “Good Morning Blues.” Other Rushing hits from the Basie era include “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” “Sent for You Yesterday and Here You Come Today,” “Exactly Like You,” “Going to Chicago,” “How Long, How Long,” “After You’ve Gone,” and, of course, “Mr. Five by Five.” In 1938 Rushing performed with Basie in the “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall.
When Basie broke up his first band in 1950, Rushing moved to South Carolina, hoping to retire from the grind of touring. But his heart just wasn’t in it. According to the MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, Rushing later said of this brief hiatus: “I knew the first time I heard a band come through town, I’d be finished. It happened, and one night I told my wife we were packing our bags and going to New York.” For a short time he led his own band, but it was as a performer that Rushing truly shone. Always smiling, the animated singer/pianist was a crowd pleaser.
During the 1950s he appeared increasingly as a solo performer, although he continued to work with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Benny Goodman, Frank Culley, and Buck Clayton. Although he no longer was formally associated with the Basie organization, he and the Count appeared together in 1954 on the Tonight Show, hosted at the time by jazz-lover Steven Allen. The 1950s also brought a sharp increase in Rushing’s recorded output. During the decade he released albums and singles on a number of labels, including Columbia, Jazztone, King, Vanguard, and Okeh. In 1958 Rushing appeared with Benny Goodman at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Rushing showed no signs of slowing down as the 1950s segued into the 1960s. Throughout the decade he performed around the world with Eddie Condon, Thelonious Monk, Harry James, Joe Newman, and Dave Brubeck. He also teamed again with Basie and Goodman whenever the opportunity arose and appeared frequently at the leading jazz festivals worldwide. Rushing also appeared in a number of television shows, including the documentaries, The Sound of Jazz and Jon Hendricks’ The Evolution of the Blues. In the 1969 motion picture The Learning Tree, Rushing had a singing and acting role.
Rushing was diagnosed with leukemia in 1971, bringing a sudden end to his career. He died on June 8, 1972, at the Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City and was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens in Queens, New York. Gone but not forgotten, Rushing’s distinctive blend of blues and jazz helped to propel the already successful Count Basie band to dizzying new heights. Rushing’s recordings stand as perhaps the most telling memorial to his lasting contributions to the worlds of blues and jazz.
Two Shades of Blue, Ember, 1952.
Rushing Lullabies, Legacy, 1959.
Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You, New World, 1967.
The You & Me That Used to Be, RCA Bluebird, 1971.
Mr. Five by Five, Topaz Jazz, 1996.
(With Jack Dupree) Dynamic Duo, Magnum America, 1996.
Five Feet of Soul, Collectables, 1998.
Everyday, Vanguard, 1999.
African American Almanac, 8th edition, Gale Group, 2000.
Almanac of Famous People, 6th edition, Gale Research, 1998.
BluesNotes, November 1999.
“Jimmy Rushing,” Stamp on Black History, http://library.thinkquest.org/10320/Rushing.htm?tqskip1=1&tqtime=0216 (February_16, 2002).
“Jimmy Rushing: Biography,” ARTISTDirect, http://ubl.artistdirect.com/music/artist/bio/0,487946,00.html?artist=Jimmy+Rushing (February 16, 2002).
“Jimmy Rushing—Biography,” Yahoo! Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (February 16, 2002).
“Rushing, Jimmy,” MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, http://www.musicweb.uk.net/encyclopaedia/r/R170.HTM (February 16, 2002).
Rushing, Jimmy 1903–1972
Jimmy Rushing 1903–1972
Jazz vocalist pianist
Jimmy Rushing, also known as “Mr. Five by Five,” possessed a joyous, booming voice that could be clearly heard over the swinging jazz orchestras of the big band era and beyond. He began his career as a piano player in the 1920s, but soon found his voice. He made his name with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 1940s, and enjoyed an active career singing solo and with jazz and big-band greats such as Humphrey Lyttleton, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims, among others. He toured the United States and abroad, and his voice can be heard on countless recordings, including the most recent compilations The Essential Jimmy Rushing (1978), Mister Five by Five (1980), and The Classic Count (1982).
James Andrew Rushing was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on August 26, 1903. He came from a musical family; his father played trumpet, his mother and brother were singers, and his uncle played piano in a gambling house. Rushing played the violin as a child, but switched to piano when a cousin, Wesley Manning, began teaching him to play. He continued his music studies as a teen at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. He was known in his younger days as “Little Jimmy,” but earned the nickname “Mr. Five by Five” when he grew up—the name was descriptive of his short height and wide girth. The “official pianist” of Wilberforce University dances went on to earn his living as a pianist, and moved to California in the mid-1920s.
When asked about how he started singing after he had already begun his career as a pianist, Rushing recalled in-Jazz: The Essential Companion: “I could only play in three keys. After a time everything began to sound alike to me and it was then they told me to sing.” Jazz: The Essential Companion went on to describe Rushing’s voice as “surprisingly high, intense and with a dramatic, near-operatic vibrato.” Richard S. Ginnell wrote on the All Music Guide website that Rushing possessed a “booming voice that radiated sheer joy in whatever material he sang,” and added that he could “dominate even the loudest of big bands.” It was this voice, not Rushing’s piano chops, that could be heard throughout Southern California with the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Harvey Brooks, and Paul Howard during the 1920s. He moved back home to Oklahoma City for a time in 1925 in order to help his family run their luncheonette business. The vocalist then toured with the Billy King Revue, of which Walter Page was a band member.
Career: Jazz vocalist. played in Southern California with Jelly Roll Morten, Harvey Brooks, and Paul Howard, 1920s; member of Walter Page Blue Devils band 1927-29; joined Bennie Moten’s orchestra, 1929-35; member of Count Basie Orchestra, 1935-50; toured with his own septet, 1950-52; as a solo act, 1952-72; Europe with Humphrey Littleton, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman, 1961; Japan and Australia with Eddie Condon, 1964; appeared in film The Learning Tree, 1969; appeared at the Half Note in New York City playing with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, early 1970$.
Awards: Voted Best Male Singer and Record of the Year for The You and Me That Used to Be, Down Beat music poll 1972.
When Page formed his own band, Rushing was hired to tour the Southwest with Page’s Blue Devils from 1927 to 1929. He recorded the album Blue Devil Blues with the group in 1929 on the Vocalion record label.
Rushing joined up with Bennie Moten’s big band in 1929, and remained with the group until Moten’s death in 1935. He then worked for a time with Buster Moten, before becoming one of several Moten band members who joined Count Basie’s orchestra in Kansas City. It was with Basie that Rushing, as featured vocalist, would enjoy his glory years. They played at the Reno Club in Kansas City until Basie took the band to New York. Rushing sang on Basie’s famous 1936 recording of “Boogie Woogie,” and the recording placed Rushing on the national music scene. Rushing also appeared on several Basie recordings from that era on the Decca, Columbia, and RCA record labels, and was featured in several films with Basie’s band, including Funzapoppin in 1943. Rushing also recorded with Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, and Johnny Otis during these years.
The 1950s brought the end of the big band era, and Rushing worked only occasionally with Basie during 1949-50, after Basie streamlined his orchestra in 1948. He formed his own septet, which included Buck Clayton and Dicky Wells, and toured and played a residency at the Savoy Ballroom in New York from 1950 to 1952. He worked as a solo act after June of 1952, and toured and played residencies in such places as New York, Newark, Kansas City, Cleveland, Oakland, California, and Canada. He toured the United Kingdom with Humphrey Lyttleton’s band, and went to Europe in 1957 as a solo act, returning in 1958 to play the Brussels World Fair with Benny Goodman. He played in 1959 with Buck Clayton and made frequent appearances with Basie at high-profile jazz festivals during the 1950s and 1960s. He toured with Harry James and the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1961, and the following year enjoyed a residency at a club in Miami. He then toured Japan and Australia with Eddie Condon’s group in 1964. Rushing’s solo recordings included The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. (1957), Little Jimmy Rushing and the Big Brass (1958), and Jimmy Rushing and the Smith Girls (1960), which were all recorded on Columbia by legendary jazz producer John Hammond.
The mid-1960s found Rushing back in the United States, appearing regularly at the Half Note jazz club in New York City. He also had a singing and acting role as the character “Chappie Logan” in director Gordon Parks’s 1969 film The Learning Tree. Rushing could be found at the Half Note in the late 1960s and early 1970s, playing with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. During his later years he favored such tunes as “Going to Chicago,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” and “Exactly Like You.” Leukemia sidelined Rushing in 1971, but he appeared at the Kansas City Jazz Festival and released his final album, The You and Me That Used to Be, in 1972. Despite the fact that his voice was sounding somewhat tired, Rushing was voted Best Male Singer and won Record of the Year for The You and Me That Used to Be in that year’s Down Beat reader’s poll. Rushing died of leukemia in New York City on June 8, 1972.
Jimmy Rushing Sings the Blues, Vanguard, 1955.
Listen to the Blues, Vanguard, 1955.
Cat Meets Chick, Columbia, 1956.
The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq., Columbia, 1957.
Little Jimmy Rushing and the Big Brass, Columbia, 1958.
If This Ain’t the Blues, Vanguard, 1958.
Rushing Lullabies, Sony, 1960.
Jimmy Rushing and the Smith Girls, Columbia, 1960.
Five Feet of Soul, Colpix, 1963.
Two Shades of Blue, Audio Lab, 1964.
Every Day I Have the Blues, Impulse!, 1967.
Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You, Master Jazz, 1967.
Who Was It Sang That Song?, Master Jazz, 1967.
Blues and Things, Master Jazz, 1967.
Livin’ the Blues, Bluesway, 1968.
Sent for You Yesterday, Bluesway, 1968.
The You and Me That Used to Be, Bluebird/RCA, 1971.
Goin’ to Chicago, Vanguard, 1971.
Carr, Ian, Digby Fairweather, and Brian Priestley, Jazz: The Essential Companion, Prentice Hall Press, 1987.
Chilton, John, Who’s Who of Jazz, Da Capo, 1985.
Claghorn, Charles Eugene, Biographical Dictionary of Jazz, Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Kernfeld, Barry, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, Ltd., 1998.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 20, 2002).