Louie Prima

Louie Prima’s family emigrated from Sicily, Italy to New Orleans in the early 1900′s. At the time of Louie’s youth, in the 1920′s, New Orleans was a hot bed for early jazz, dixieland and swing music. This environment created some of our great musical visionaries, such as the trumpet player Louis Armstrong, and Louie Prima was no different. He would go on to be one of the biggest male jazz vocals for the next half century.

Growing up in a working class family trying to make it in America Louie learned early on that he had to work for what he wanted. His father was a beverage distributor and his mother your typical housewife of the time but music was a integral part of their household. Louie’s mother made all of the children take lessons and learn various instruments. Louie was originally taught the violin and even earned minor acclaim as a young violinist. Unfortunately for his mother and fortunate for us Louie eventually put down the violin and picked up the cornet, an instrument that turned out to be his gateway into the jazz world. Louie didn’t make the switch to cornet alone though, he was following his older brother Leon’s lead. Leon had dropped the piano to play the cornet and would go on to become a popular band leader in the New Orleans area.

In 1931 LoLouie Prima and a microphone.uie Prima was a big name in the Louisiana area he lived in but not much more. He was trying his best to break out although nothing was working for him. His big break came in 1934 when Guy Lombardo came to town. Guy was impressed with Prima’s abilities and coaxed him to move to New York City to play in a particular club there and Prima agreed but things didn’t work so well for him in NYC. The nightclub owner at the club he was supposed to play regularly at thought he was black when he first saw him, being an olive skinned man from New Orleans. Subsequently he wasn’t hired to play at the club, you can draw your own conclusions on that one. As a result he struggled to find an audience through much of the 1930′s.

Louie’s luck changed in the 1940′s when he moved to Los Angeles and recorded a string of hits such as, Angelina, Please No Squeeza Da Banana and Bongo, Bongo, Bongo. These recording sessions propelled him into being a top act. He had his own big band now. Part of his big band act involved a female vocalist with which he’d not only sing with but interchange comical dialogue with throughout the show, even in between versus. All in all he had three female counterparts each of them fantastic in their own right, Lily Ann Carol, Cathy Allen and Keely Smith. It’s the last of these three that had the greatest impact on Prima’s act and Prima himself. Keely Smith became his fourth wife(he must have been a good catholic). Keely first performed with Prima in 1949 and she’d remain a major part of his act indefinitely from then on.

Louie Prima was one of the most entertaining jazz vocalists to ever live. There wasn’t a serious bone in his body. The banter he keeps going with his female counter part and the band’s musicians creates an immensity entertaining atmosphere. It effects his band-mate’s playing as well and you can just picture everyone playing with smirks behind their mouthpieces which in turn makes you enjoy listening to his songs that much more. Louie is no slouch in musicality either. His vocals are top notch, they ooze with a unique gritty style. For those of you familiar with past Disney movies, Prima was the vocalist behind the King Louie(appropriately named) in the film The Jungle Book. In my opinion his performance of “I Wanna Be Like You” totally makes that film. So if you’re interested in classic male jazz singers, checkout Louie Prima.

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