Louis Prima Greatest Hits – Louis Prima Best Songs – Louis Prima Collection

To many on the outside, Louis Prima’s place in American music history is tenuous. With one jazz standard (“Sing Sing Sing”), one early rock classic (“Jump Jive ‘N’ Wail”), and a string of novelty hits to his credit, the Italian trumpeter with the simian aspect appears as little more than a goofy drifter on the pop-culture tide, influencing few and accomplishing little. But when Prima was in his Las Vegas heyday in the mid- to late ’50s, his late-night club performances were the shows that the showmen went to see. Sinatra and his cronies would watch Prima’s relentlessly upbeat set from the back of the house, getting energized and taking notes. To those who were there, the memory of Prima’s bounding stage presence and dogged commitment to audience satisfaction marks him as a central figure of an era when Vegas rivaled New York and Hollywood as the entertainment capitals of America. The glory of Don McGlynn’s documentary Louis Prima: The Wildest! is that it provides access for those who weren’t there. Condensing Prima’s life story to nuggets of bare-bones info, McGlynn leaves plenty of time for pundits and participants to testify about Prima’s power, and for performance footage from his prime. The players he assembled in the Nevada desert—including Sam Butera, with his rocker’s bounce and honking sax, and Prima’s wife Keely Smith, with her motionless deadpan, broken only by a surprised laugh or a tender caress of her husband’s mug—formed a dynamic, magnetic ensemble. Jolting vintage swing with then-contemporary rock rhythms, Prima and company carefully gauged crowd response and ultimately tailored a repertoire of romantic standards and comedy numbers, through which the band moved at supersonic speed. McGlynn has almost no archival interviews with the late jazzman, which hurts, especially when he moves to Prima’s post-Vegas career as a Disney voice talent and a fixture at nostalgia clubs in his native New Orleans. Without the principle’s opinion on his changing fortunes, or his apologia for cheating on and eventually divorcing the charming Smith, The Wildest! nearly becomes a shallow lionization of a minor cultural figure. But the boosterism is forgiven when McGlynn cuts to generous samples of Prima putting his indelible stamp on “That Old Black Magic” or his signature tune, “Just A Gigolo.” The film is positive because Prima was positive; it’s all about recreating that groove.

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