Louis Prima: Swing It! - His 53 Finest 1933-1960
An exuberant collection of the best of Louis Prima (1911-1978), this hugely entertaining pair of CDs shows just why he was one of the favourite entertainers of the last century. New Orleans-born Prima, the son of Italian immigrants, was one of the last century’s most irresistible performers. Like his idol Louis Armstrong, he was a fine trumpeter, singer, bandleader and extrovert entertainer. His inspirational trumpet style, self-taught, was based on Oliver and Armstrong. His singing, described as “hoarse and horny”, mixed Neapolitan slang with scat. He was a truly great showman. Much later on, his was the voice of ‘King Louis’ in The Jungle Book.
“Swing It!”, the catchphrase of his popular radio show, is also the title of Retrospective’s summary of the very best of Louis Prima’s whole career, opening with the two lively titles from his very first recording session in 1933 (Chinatown, My Chinatown & Dinah). His New Orleans Gang, with top jazz stars such as Pee Wee Russell, Georg Brunis and Eddie Miller, recorded some great jazz. The 15 tracks here from 1934/8 include such major hits as In A Little Gypsy Tea Room and The Lady In Red, and his most famous composition, Sing, Sing, Sing. In the 40s Louis led a big band, pouring out a string of hot swing numbers (Brooklyn Boogie, Saint Louis Blues) and entertaining novelties (Robin Hood, Bell-Bottom Trousers), often ‘Neapolitan flavoured’ (Angelina, Felicia No Capicia). In contrast he also wrote the beautiful ballad, A Sunday Kind Of Love.
A notable feature of Louis’ career from the late 40s was his fabulous partnership with Keely Smith (to whom he was married 1952/61). She is heard on seven tracks.
To those who only know Prima from his role as the voice of the orangutan King Louie in Disney's 'Jungle Book' cartoon of 1967, his lengthy career in jazz dating back to the 1930s might come as a surprise, but as this comprehensive round up proves, despite all the clowning and extrovert persona, he was a jazzman at heart. The earliest tracks here date from 1933, with Prima as a member of the Hotcha Trio. Going on to form his 'New Orleans Gang', the group recorded extensively for the Brunswick label and the 15 tracks featured here include Prima's SING SING SING from 1936, later of course to be famously adopted (and adapted) by Benny Goodman in the immortal Carnegie Hall concert of 1938. He went on to form a big band and a change in musical direction led him to a series of hits with Italian ethnicity at the heart such as ANGELINA THE WAITRESS AT THE PIZZERIA, FELICIA NO CAPICIA and JOSEPHINA PLEASE NO LEANA ON DA BELL. Disc two of the collection introduces us to Keely Smith on her early recordings with Prima, CHARLEY MY BOY (1949) and OH ABE (1950) before we reach the zenith of his popularity as a Las Vegas headline act when he recruited Sam Butera and The Witnesses as his backing group. Tracks like THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC and I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN contrast Prima's zany humour with Keely Smith's deadpan vocals and the collection finishes with another contrast, Prima's perfectly straight version of Bert Kaempfert's WONDERLAND BY NIGHT, which was a stateside hit. Like that other native of New Orleans with whom he shares a first name, Prima was a trumpeter steeped in the New Orleans tradition in which he grew up, and this excellent collection is an vastly entertaining overview of his lengthy career. Gerry Stonestreet, June In Tune