Live Jazz from the 1950’s this weekend with a double bill, live from Birdland in New York City on September 9,1952. Starting off the set is the ultra-smooth and mellow Arthur Prysock, who does several tasteful turns with some standards.
Prysock was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He moved to North Carolina as a young child, and then to Hartford, Connecticut to work in the aircraft industry during World War II, singing with small bands in the evenings. In 1944 bandleader Buddy Johnson signed him as a vocalist, and Prysock became a mainstay of the live performance circuits. Prysock sang on several of Johnson’s hits on Decca Records including “They All Say I’m the Biggest Fool” (1946), “Jet My Love” (1947) and “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” 1948), and later “Because” (1950).
In 1952 Prysock went solo. He signed with Decca, who marketed him as a younger rival to Billy Eckstine, and recorded the No. 5 R&B hit, “I Didn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night”, with Sy Oliver’s orchestra. Over the years Prysock gained a reputation as an emotive balladeer and as one of the most popular acts on the Chitlin’ Circuit. He recorded R&B classics such as Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight”. In the 1960s, Prysock joined Old Town Records and did an R&B cover of Ray Noble’s ballad “The Very Thought of You” (1960) and a pop hit “It’s Too Late Baby, It’s Too Late” (1965). For Verve Records he recorded Arthur Prysock and Count Basie (December 12, 13, 14, 20 and 21, 1965, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), and A Working Man’s Prayer (1968). He read verses from Walter Benton’s book of poems against a jazz instrumental backdrop on his 1968 album, This is My Beloved. Between 1960 and 1988, he released over 30 LPs. He also briefly had his own television show in the 1960s.
Next up is the inimitable, incomparable (their words, but mine too) Slim Gaillard and his trio who rip things up nicely for this NBC radio program Stars In Jazz.
Gaillard first rose to prominence in the late 1930s as part of Slim & Slam, a jazz novelty act he formed with bassist Slam Stewart. Their hits included “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)”, “Cement Mixer (Put-Ti-Put-Ti)” and the hipster anthem, “The Groove Juice Special (Opera in Vout)”.
Gaillard’s appeal was similar to Cab Calloway’s and Louis Jordan’s in that he presented a hip style with broad appeal (for example in his children’s song “Down by the Station”). Unlike them, he was a master improviser whose stream of consciousness vocals ranged far from the original lyrics. He sang wild interpolations of nonsense syllables, such as “MacVoutie O-reeney”. One such performance is celebrated in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Gaillard, with Dodo Marmarosa on piano, appeared as a guest several times on Command Performance, recorded at KNX radio studios in Hollywood in the 1940s and distributed on transcription discs to American troops in World War II.
In 1943, Gaillard was drafted in the United States Army Air Forces and “qualified as a pilot flying B-26 bombers in the Pacific” and resumed his music career on his release from the draft in 1944. Upon his return he released the song Atomic Cocktail, which featured seemingly lighthearted lyrics laced with symbolism about nuclear war.
He later teamed with bassist Bam Brown. They can be seen in a 1947 motion picture featurette O’Voutie O’Rooney filmed live at one of their nightclub performances. Slim and Bam was featured at the first Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles that was produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. on September 23, 1945 along with Count Basie. Gaillard also played for the 2nd Cavalcade of Jazz held at Wrigley Field on Oct. 12, 1946, and played for the 3rd Cavalcade of Jazz held also at Wrigley Field on September 7, 1947.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Gaillard frequently opened at Birdland for Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Coleman Hawkins. His December 1945 session with Parker and Dizzy Gillespie is notable, both musically and for its relaxed convivial air. “Slim’s Jam”, from that session, is one of the earliest known recordings of Parker’s speaking voice.
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