These recordings took place when Louis Prima, Keely Smith and Sam Butera were the toast of Las Vegas with an act built around Prima’s inimitable vocals and larger-than-life stage presence. Entertainers who worked in the same hotels like Red Skelton, Danny Thomas and Frank Sinatra would all come to listen and frequently join Prima on stage.
Sinatra of course was quite a fan. He had Louis and Keely Smith on his 1958 TV show and three years later he invited Prima to appear at JFK’s inauguration where they performed That Old Black Magic together.
Audiences could not get enough of Prima’s high-energy repertoire, which included a potent mix of jazz, R&B, Dixieland and Italian folk dances known as tarantellas. The latter rhythm was used to good effect on numbers like Angelina and Zooma Zooma. The tarantella is often heard on the Godfather soundtrack and in the marriage scene Morgana King (Mrs. Vito Corleone) sings Luna Mezzo Mare which is a close cousin to Zooma Zooma.
One of Prima’s most celebrated recordings was Just A Gigolo, which here segues into I Ain’t Got Nobody. Years later British saxophonist and singer Ray Gelato doffed his hat to Prima’s routine on his 1996 album Ray Gelato Meets The Good Fellas.
Keely Smith’s aloof, deadpan stage manner, which contrasted so effectively with the bedlam created by the leader, was a crucial element in Prima’s success. She was also a very fine singer as she demonstrates on I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Teach Me Tonight, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, Embraceable You and I Got It Bad.
Sam Butera also weighs in, with plenty of heavy-duty Charlie Ventura inspired tenor. He also wrote the arrangements for what Ed Sullivan once called “the greatest act in show business today”.
Jump, Jive An’ Wail; Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody; Buona Sera; Oh Marie; Route 66; That Old Black Magic; When The Saints Go Marching In; 5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days; The Lip; Banana Split For My Baby; Pennies From Heaven; When You’re Smiling / The Sheik Of Araby; Come Back To Sorrento; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Night Train; The Pump Song; I’ve Got The World On A String; Baby Won’t You Please Come Home; Hey Boy! Hey Girl; You Rascal You; Fever; Twilight Time; Teach Me Tonight; Felicia No Capicia; Embraceable You / I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; Angelina / Zooma Zooma; O Sole Mio (78.39)
Collectively, Louis Prima (t, v); Sam Butera (ts, v); Jimmy Blount, Lou Sineaux (tb); William McCumber, John Nagy (p); Jack Marshall, Allan Seltzer (elg); Rolly Dee Dilorio, Amado Rodrigues (b); Bobby Morris, Paul Ferrara (d); Keely Smith (v). Hollywood, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, 1956-1959.
Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55758