Boot-Ta-La-Za | Vol Vist du Gaily Star | Chinatown My Chinatown | Puerto Vootie | Matzoh Balls by Slim Gaillard (Laughing in Rhythm)Today we take an unusual direction for Weekly World Music, focusing on an American artist working in an American idiom — jazz. What makes this in some sense world music is Slim Gaillard’s extraordinary interest in and affection for the linguistic bouillabaisse of mid-20th-century America, especially in his adopted homes of New York and Los Angeles.
Gaillard, born in Detroit to Cuban parents, was a talented guitarist and boogie-woogie pianist who mixed easily with swing and be-bop musicians, and some of his most famous recordings include Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. But what he was really known for was his loopy vocal style, built around jive talk, an invented language called Vout, and snatches of the various foreign languages that would have formed the background noise of his life. (There is also an obsession with food, which along with his vocal approach and general attitude suggest he was stoned out of his gourd an awful lot.)
Of course, dialect records (1, 2) were nothing new, but Gaillard’s approach strikes me as at once more affectionate and more interpretive than usual. Rather than making fun of an accent or language, Gaillard swallows its sounds and transmogrifies them into his own unique product.
“Boot-Ta-La-Za” seems to be some kind of Middle Eastern number, while “Vol Vist du Gaily Star” obviously takes off from Yiddish vaudeville. In “Chinatown My Chinatown” — about a part of town where black people would’ve been relatively welcome — Gaillard spits some extraordinary fake Chinese. “Puerto Vootie” involves a similar blast of fake Spanish, set to a convincing Carribean rhythm. And what better way to end than with “Matzoh Balls,” a paean to Jewish cuisine? Plus, he gives sensible instructions on how to eat gefilte fish: “Now you put a little horseraddish on it and make it very mellow.” The man knows his stuff.
Bonus: Slim Gaillard makes an appearance in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which you can read here.