It's likely that Louis Prima would have faded into obscurity if not for the Gap ad that featured young, khaki-wearing twenty-somethings swing dancing to "Jump, Jive, and Wail. That ad appeared at the height of the nineties swing revival and brought the song back into circulation, appearing on several swing compilations designed to make a quick buck. Now that the craze is over, Prima still isn't held in as high esteem as Frank Sinatra or even Dean Martin, yet his brand of music was immensely entertaining and he was a better singer and trumpet player than many gave him credit for.
Jump, Jive, and Wail is probably the only Prima that anyone really needs, but it's a collection that everyone should have. With the sheer amount of material included, it's a CD that seems longer than it's running time, and despite a few clunkers from the end of his career the collection hits the mark splendidly.
Prima was at his peak while working in Vegas in the early fifties, helping to usher in that city's reputation as the entertainment capital of the world. Of course the best tracks are those featuring Keely Smith and Sam Butera, the two key ingredients that helped give the band its distinct personality. Smith, who was briefly married to Prima, had a coolly sophisticated voice that contrasted nicely with Prima's raspy enthusiasm, while Butera's tenor sax came straight from the honking jump blues style. Though not technically proficient, he fit in nicely with what Prima was up to. The three of them crafted an entertaining blend of jazz, Latin, rhythm and blues, witty stage banter, Italian gibberish, and whatever else happened to come to mind.
Prima was at his best when fashioning standards into his high-octane style. Songs like "That Old Black Magic and "I've Got You Under My Skin take on a new life when Prima reworks them with a new rhythm and frequently a faster tempo. But it's the Italian inflected tunes like "Buena Sera and "Angelina that really gave the Prima band its flavor. This is extrovert's music, suited for the stage rather than the living room; even when Prima isn't on stage, he seems like he's projecting out to an audience.
"Jump, Jive and Wail is here, of course, as is his track as King Louis from the Disney film "The Jungle Book." The rest is an appealing detour from the more somber swing of the day, an attractive conception of jazz returned to its original role as entertainment.
Personnel: Louis Prima: vocals, trumpet; Keely Smith: vocals; Sam Butera: tenor sax; additional personnel not provided.