Louis Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas; his father was a local music teacher and bandleader. Jordan started out on clarinet, and also played piano professionally early in his career. Alto saxophone became his main instrument-- although Jordan became even better known as a vocalist with his ebulliant personality.
In 1932, Jordan began performing with Chick Webb and Clarence Williams, recording "Honey in the Bee Ball" for Decca Records in 1938. Though this was recorded with The Elks Rendezvous Band, Jordan would go on to play with His Tympany Five, which eventually included Bill Jennings and Carl Hogan on guitar, Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett on piano, Chris Columbus on drums and Dallas Bartley on bass. Jordan played alto sax and sang.
The band's sound was similar to that of Fats Waller and his rhythm, but louder, with more pronounced rhythm, and that touch of the Caribbean sound commonly called "the Spanish tinge".
In the 1940s, Jordan released dozens of hit songs including "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (one of many contenders for the title of "First rock and roll record"), "Blue Light Boogie", "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens", "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?", "Ain't That Just Like a Woman", and the multi-million seller "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie". His biggest hit was "Caldonia", with its energetic punchline, banged out by the whole band, "Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?" After Jordan's success with it, the song was also recorded by Woody Herman in a famous modern arrangement, including a unison chorus by five trumpets.
Jordan's recordings celebrated African American urban life and were infused with good humor and energy that had a great influence on the development of rock and roll; his music was popular with both blacks and whites. One of Jordan's biggest fans was Chuck Berry, who modelled his musical approach on Jordan's, changing the text from black life to teenage life.
By the mid 1950s, Jordan's records were not selling as well as they used to and he began switching labels. At Mercury Records, Jordan managed to update his sound and released more hits, including "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Salt Pork, West Virginia". After this, however, Jordan's popularity waned and he recorded only for a small following of enthusiasts.
Jordan died in Los Angeles, California.
The Broadway show, Five Guys Named Moe was devoted to Jordan's music.
The word tympany is an old-fashioned one meaning, "swollen, inflated, puffed-up", etymologically related to timpani, or "kettle drum", but historically separate.