Louis Prima posthumously experienced a resurgence of popularity in the late ’90s when jump swing and all things hep came back into style. The (other) singer/trumpeter with the trademark gravely voice steeped in New Orleans tradition was featured widely in motion-picture soundtracks and television ads(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knW1hGwmEXQ). Yet in spite of being the so-called King of the Swingers and a Vegas institution, Prima never achieved the cool acclaim of, say, the Rat Pack. Perhaps because Prima was in fact the complete antithesis as he sweated his way through steamy sets in the cramped Sahara nightclub. Alongside the straight-woman act of his then-wife, singer Keely Smith, and a band led by the honking saxophonist Sam Butera, Prima came to epitomize the blue-collar approach to entertainment — overworked and underpaid — which rarely gets paid its complete dues.
Capitol’s Jump, Jive an’ Wail: The Essential Louis Prima arrives at a curious, yet welcome time. Prima’s second wind has long past and his fan base remains rooted in past generations, ballroom-dance clubs and that person who still says, “That’s so money.” Yet, Prima never really got his complete propers the second time around anyway, so why not ring them in belatedly? Thus, this seeming by-the-books collection of hits is a welcome addition. Expectedly, about half of Prima’s seminal debut album for Capitol, The Wildest!, is featured here. Recorded live at a Sahara gig just as the group hit its stride, these recordings capture the frenzy of a primo Prima performance.
A healthy heaping of the couple’s cheeky and schizophrenic duets — from the hip “The Lip” to the demented “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” — are also included here. For all of Prima’s musical and technical limitations, he always compensated with exuberance and personality, qualities that he earnestly invested in his recordings. The Essential Louis Prima may not re-write the books on Prima, but it certainly reminds us of why that book is a long time a comin’.