It’s been a tiring and frustrating day during which I accomplished very little, apart from becoming tired and frustrated. I think I’m going to have an early night, but before doing that I thought I’d share this old record with you. There’s not much information about it on Youtube, but I actually have it on an very battered vinyl LP. The sleevenote doesn’t give the exact date of the recording session, but it was somewhere around the middle of December 1945.
The band is dubbed Slim Gaillard and his Orchestra, but it’s just a seven-piece band. It is, however, notable for the presence on it of two giants of the bebop era, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I thought I’d put it on here primarily because it has such a relaxed atmosphere and is a lot of fun to listen to, as well as providing a fascinating window into this transitional period of American Jazz in which Charlie Parker was the leading figure.
Before 1945 Charlier Parker had worked mainly as a featured soloist in big bands of the swing era, including those of Jay McShann, Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine; after 1945 he almost exclusively performed and recorded in small groups. The year 1945 was also important for two other reasons: it was the first year he was able to record any of his own compositions and it was the first time he was able to record with Dizzy Gillespie in a band made entirely of like-minded musicians, rather than a mixed bag as on this track.
Another quite interesting thing I almost forgot to mention is that this particular 1945 track is – I think – the earliest known recording of Charlie Parker’s voice…
This period also marked the beginning of Parker’s acceptance as an important solo voice by music critics and by the “hipper” sections of the American public. This spreading awareness of his importance is why both he and Dizzy were invited to perform on the West Coast of America, specifically at Billy Berg’s club in Hollywood. It was during a short residency there that Slim’s Jam was recorded.
Apart from Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), the band also contained the relatively unknown swing-era musician Jack Mcvea (tenor sax) as well as young bebop devotee Dodo Marmarosa (piano). The drummer was the great Zutty Singleton, who in fact played on some of the Hot Five recordings with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, and the bass was “Bam” Brown. Slim Gaillard played guitar on this track as well as doing the intros in characteristic fashion.
Slim Gaillard was a truly remarkable character who led a remarkable life, as his wikipedia page makes clear. He was a talented musician in his own right, but also a wonderful comedian and storyteller. He’s most famous for the novelty jazz acts he formed with musicians such as Slam Stewart and, later, Bam Brown; their stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie and O-reeney; one such performance figures in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It’s also very much the style of the commentary he adds to this track.
In later life Slim Gaillard travelled a lot in Europe – he could speak 8 languages in addition to English – and spent long periods living in London. He died there, in fact, in 1991, aged 75. I saw him a few times myself when I used to go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club. A tall, gangly man with a straggly white beard and wonderful gleam in his eye, he cut an unmistakeable in the bars and streets of Soho. He rarely had to buy himself a drink as he was so well known and such an entertaining fellow that a group always formed around him whenever he went into a pub in order to enjoy his company. You never quite knew what he was going to do next, in fact. I once saw him sit down and play a piano with his palms facing upwards, striking the notes with the backs of his fingers. Other random things worth mentioning are that Slim Gaillard’s daughter was married to Marvin Gaye and it is generally accepted that the word “groovy” was coined by him (Slim). I know it’s a cliché, but he really was a larger-than-life character and a truly remarkable human being.
They don’t make ’em like Slim any more, but you can get a good idea of what a blast he was by listening to this record, which is bound to bring a smile to the most crabbed of faces. But alongside the offbeat humour there’s some terrific playing too. Charlie Parker’s virtuoso blues-inflected choruses and Dizzy Gillespie’s dissonant pyrotechnics form a strong stylistic contrast with Jack McVea’s earlier tenor sax solo which sounds positively old-fashioned by comparison.
Anyway, it’s time for bed-o-voutie so I’ll say goodbye-o-reenie with a little hot cocoa on it. I gotta get up early in the mornin’ myself…