Slim Gaillard

1937-1938

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Slim's story begins in Detroit, where Bulee Gaillard was born on January 4, 1916. He seems to have inherited a bizarre sense of recklessness from his father, an absent-minded cruise-ship employee who at one point misplaced little Bulee, sailing off and leaving the boy stranded on the island of Crete for half a year. Multi-instrumental and able to sing and tap dance, Slim began his performing career in the early '30s. He invaded New York in 1937 and made his first appearance on records in April of that year with Frank Newton's Uptown Serenaders. These two rare sides were issued on Classics 643, the Chronological series' outstanding Frankie Newton volume with the title 1937-1939. Their reappearance at the beginning of Slim's chronology is fortuitous rather than redundant. Slim had a warm and pleasant voice. He was archetypically hip; he scatted with ease and sounded perfectly at home in the company of Frankie Newton, Edmond Hall, Russell Procope, and Pete Brown. Slim Gaillard's most famous tune materialized ten months later, on February 17, 1938. This was the very first in a long series of lively duets with bassist Slam Stewart. Bolstered by piano, percussion, and an occasional saxophone, the act became known as Slim & Slam. Their bottle-rocket hit record was originally supposed to be called "Flat Foot Floozy" but the word "floozy," denoting an inexpensive prostitute, seemed immoral to the folks in charge at Vocalion Records, so Slim changed it to "Floogie." Confusing things even further, Vocalion issued the song as "The Flat Fleet Floogee." None of this interfered with the success of Gaillard's magnum opus. Its rowdiest incarnation was recorded in London on August 21, 1938, by Fats Waller & His Continental Rhythm, with all the subtlety of a merry brawl. Slim & Slam's original version set the pace and established a pattern for their many subsequent collaborations, which continued until Gaillard was inducted into the armed forces in 1943. These 1938 recordings are the freshest and most endearing of all. "Chinatown," in spite of its ethnic slurring, demonstrates Gaillard's incredible ability to run his mouth in hilarious and surprising ways. The two men's unique voices -- surrealistic Slim and bowing, singing Slam -- mingle most pleasantly. "Tutti Frutti" and "Look-A There" are good examples of the kind of a groove these guys liked to glide with. "Vol Vist du Gaily Star" is strangely attractive. "Laughin' in Rhythm" was attempted by other musicians, but nobody ever came close to the outrageousness of this recording. Gaillard's lifelong involvement with cannabis seems to be documented here in high relief. The hilarity is authentic, and Gaillard is in the throes of a coughing fit as the record fades out.

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