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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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LOUIS PRIMA

Swing It; His 53 Finest 1933-1960

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4326 [78:22 + 79:08]

 

 

 

CD 1 (1933-1946)

with The Hotcha Trio:

1. Chinatown, My Chinatown

2. Dinah

Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang:

3. Sing It Way Down Low

4. Letís Have A Jubilee

5. Itís The Rhythm In Me

6. Worry Blues

7. Iím Living In A Great Big Way

8. Swing Me With Rhythm

9. The Lady In Red

10. Chasing Shadows

11. Basin Street Blues

12. In A Little Gypsy Tea Room

13. Letís Swing It!

14. Sing, Sing, Sing!

15. Pennies From Heaven

16. Yes, There Ainít No Moonlight Ė So What?

17. Rosalie

Louis Prima & His Orchestra:

18. Robin Hood

19. Angelina, The Waitress At The Pizzeria

20. Oh, Marie (with Lily Ann Carol)

21. Bell-Bottom Trousers (with Lily Ann Carol)

22. Brooklyn Boogie

23. Felicia No Capicia

24. St. Louis Blues

25. Josephina, Please No Leana On Da Bell

26. Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!

27. A Sunday Kind Of Love

CD 2 (1947-1960)

Louis Prima & His Orchestra:

1. All Right, Louie, Drop The Gun

2. Charley, My Boy *

3. Oh, Babe *

with Sam Butera & The Witnesses:

4. Just A Gigolo Ė I Ainít Got Nobody (Medley)

5. Body And Soul

6. Buona Sera

7. Jump, Jive An' Wail

8. Nothingís Too Good For My Baby *

9. You Rascal, You

10. Basin Street Blues Ė When Itís Sleepy Time Down South (Medley)

11. Night Train

12. Whistle Stop

13. Five Months, Two Weeks, Two Days

14. Banana Split For My Baby

15. When The Saints Go Marching In

16. Iíve Got The World On A String

17. That Old Black Magic *

18. Thatís My Home

19. Judy

20. Gotta See Baby Tonight

21. Donít Take Your Love From Me *

22. The Music Goes íRound And Around

23. Hey, Boy! Hey, Girl! *

24. Lazy River

25. Iíve Got You Under My Skin *

Louis Prima & His Orchestra & Chorus:

26. Wonderland By Night

* with Keely Smith

The priapic New Orleanian Louis Prima started recording in the early 1930s and continued for just short of three decades, by which time his down-home trumpeting had become more or less a distant memory. Those were The Jungle Book years when Prima was King of the Swingers paying homage to the real King Louie in his impersonation of his fellow Louisianan.

But back in 1933 he was busy in New York embarking on a series of recordings with varying personnel. There was the chamber jazz of the Hotcha Trio, with David Roseís articulate pianism and Norman Gastís very Venuti-inspired violin playing. By the following year he was in a hot-shot recording outfit under his own name, Louis Prima and his New Orleans Gang. The gang included luminaries such as George Brunies, Sidney Arodin, Eddie Miller, Claude Thornhill, George van Eps, Nappy Lamare and company, though not all necessarily at the same time. Thornhillís elegant playing at the piano is somewhat at odds with the ebullient front line though when Pee Wee Russell joins the following year, by which time the band has pretty much changed personnel entirely, a new and very personal voice is added. Itís far more enjoyable listening to his clarinet on Basin Street Blues than it is to Primaís showboating vocal. Itís certainly interesting to hear Primaís original version of his own Sing, Sing, Sing before it became colonised by Benny Goodman in the famous Jimmy Mundy arrangement.

By the war years the song selection was encroaching on vaudevillian with a strong admixture of raucous band vocals, and the band members were becoming increasingly invisible, if not downright unknown. Prima trotted out cast-iron favourites like Bell-Bottom Trousers and Brooklyn Boogie but the larky stuff with vocalist Lily Ann Carol, good as she is, hasnít worn well and nor has the honking tenor (a sign of the times) on Lionel Hamptonís Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!

But when, in the late 40s and early 50s, he was joined by wife-to-be Keely Smith and by the iron-lunged tenor player Sam Butera Ė whoíd played in the club of Louisí talented brother Leon back in New Orleans - things looked up. Smith was, facially speaking, a wonderful Ďstraight maní to Primaís rapacious mugging and Butera led The Witnesses with authority. From then on, the punchy jive-and-wail stuff took over and it remains splendid to hear Ė lively, witty, pugnacious, and buoyantly rhythmic.Just a Gigolo and Buona Sera, Hey, Boy! Hey, Girl! and That Old Black Magic Ė itís hard to say which is the most infectious. Prima still played a tight trumpet, his singing was audacious and knowing, Smith was ever-excellent in the role sheíd carved out for herself. By 1960, a blowsy version of Wonderland by Night with unknown personnel pretty much signalled a farewell to serious recording from Prima. He lived on until 1978.

This well produced twofer comes with fine Digby Fairweather notes. Heís too honest to push Prima higher up the Jazz ladder than rightly speaking he deserves but he was a force of nature and more often than not a force for musical good.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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