RED BANK: PRIMA BAND COMES TO THE BASIE
Next-generation swing-king Louis Prima Jr. and his Witnesses bring their brand of raucous rhythm and jet-fueled jive to Red Bank Thursday night.
If they know anything at all about the legendary singer, songwriter, jazz trumpeter and popularizer of hepcat slang Louis Prima, most folks might stop at “Just a Gigolo/ I Ain’t Got Nobody,” a rockingly over-the-top medley that was famously revived note-for-note by Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. Those a bit further in the know could vouch that Prima was the guy who wrote the original version of Benny Goodman’s big-band epic “Sing Sing Sing,” and who provided the voice of King Louie in Disney’s 1960s animated feature The Jungle Book.
While a cerebral hemorrhage silenced the catalyzin’ King of Swing 41 years ago, his spirit is alive and well — and this Thursday night, Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses testify to that effect, on the Red Bank stage of the Count Basie Theatre.
Prima Jr., center, and the Witnesses channel the energy, and some of the tunes, of his late father, below. (Photo above by Denise Truscello. Click to enlarge.)
Of course, the truly hep could tell you that for decades, Prima and partners (including vocalist spouse Keely Smith and bandleader Sam Butera) presided over the wilder outer-limits of pop music, delivering a unique sound that mixed the jumpin’ jive of the most frenetic African-American combos with the good-time humor of Italian novelty songs and an energy level that competed with the craziest early rock and roll — for a “Wildest Show in Vegas” that led at least one observer to comment that “your grandparents had lots more fun than you do.”
While the junior Prima brings the look of his younger-days father — along with his signature trumpet, and the instrumental lineup of Butera’s original Witnesses — the 50-year-old “LPJ” emphasizes the fact that he and the band are “not content to sit on the legacy they so passionately protect” — mixing up a Sunday Sauce of their own originals with the elder Prima’s best known compositions (“Jump Jive ‘n Wail”) and supercharged standards (“That Old Black Magic”), in addition to such surprises as Adam Ant’s seemingly made-to-order “Goody Two Shoes.”
It’s a show that makes clear the direct connection between those Witnesses workouts of the 1950s and the swing revivalists that have included such bands as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Stray Cat Brian Setzer’s large-scale Orchestra.
Touring behind their second album, “Blow,” recorded at Hollywood’s landmark Capitol Records Studio B, where Prima Sr. waxed many some of his most famous tracks, and kicking off that North American tour with Thursday night’s 8 p.m. Basie barnburner, Prima Jr. and the Witnesses roll into Red Bank as part of the ongoing Jazz at the Basie slate.
Tickets ($25 – $49) are available online here — and a portion of each ducat will be dedicated to the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, a nonprofit (co-founded by Prima Sr.’s fifth wife and widow, a native of Toms River and mother to Prima Jr.) dedicated “to support and encourage an appreciation for American Jazz, American popular music and jazz performance” in education and community outreach.