Louis Prima


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Like a Sargasso Sea of commercial challenges lying fallow between his hot traditional jazz of the mid-'30s, and his well-known success as a pop star in the 1950s and '60s, Louis Prima's big band recordings from the mid-'40s reveal this man's relentless scuffle to find a sustainable niche in the overall scheme of things. Most of the selections date from the middle of 1944, the presentation positively sweating with beefy or sweet arrangements behind Prima's handsome vocals. "The Very Thought of You" was clearly patterned after Billie Holiday's version, and even conveys some of the same gorgeous sentimentality. Lily Ann Carol had an attractive voice, and some listeners might deliberately succumb to the prescribed lushness of prettiness and stylized form. The Majestic and Hit labels were designated showcases for cheap popular entertainment, and the material speaks volumes about American culture, like it or not. Hearing a team of grown men chanting "Hitsum Kitsum" is one thing, but "I Want to Get to Tokio" burrows quickly to a nadir of jingoistic racism, with Prima loudly comparing "dirty Japs" to "monkeys in a bamboo tree." While this sort of abusiveness was fairly common in U.S. media during WWII, ethnicity in general seems to have been regarded as a reliable sounding board for Prima's far-from-subtle sense of humor. "What's the Matter Marie?" at least focuses upon the singer's own Italian background, as does the minestrone-spattered "Angelina" and a remarkable performance bearing the title "Please No Squeeza da Banana," which might be the most useful recording Prima ever made. During "Rum and Coca-Cola" the band attempts to invade Trinidad with Lily Ann Carol perched atop the bogus Caribbean arrangement like a tin hood ornament. But the primary ethnic touchstone for Prima was always Afro-American, as he flagrantly imitated Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page and Louis Jordan over the span of several decades. Prima's handling of "Caldonia" is pretty stupid. The best tune here is "The Blizzard," a hot instrumental boogie woogie stoked with hot solos by sax and trumpet, building to a nearly caustic level of intensity before collapsing with a flourish into a heap.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:34
2 2:14
3 3:02
4 2:46
5 3:07
6 3:09
7 2:40
8 3:14
9 2:46
12 2:38
13 3:10
14 3:14
15 3:07
16 4:26
17 3:07
18 3:05
19 3:11
20 2:50
21 3:11
22 3:02
23 2:41
24 3:07
blue highlight denotes track pick