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Mike Zwerin's Great Slim Gaillard Profile
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Great Slim Interview
Copyright © 1982 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.

Slim: "Before coming back in October, I wanted to see London—I never was here before. So I stopped off, and I’ve been enjoying myself so much; I had a little dinner with Peter Boizot at Kettner’s. I worked with the groups of Clark Terry, Carmen McRae and Dave Brubeck in the Montreux Jazz Festival, and I figured I’d go and say “Hello” again to them at the Capital Festival; then I tried to see as many of the spots around London as I could in a few days.

I just started back in the field not long ago, and I’ve been doing concerts supported by various people on piano, bass and drums. I’ve been out of the field for about seven years, not playing, and prior to that I was just sitting around raising apples, pears and things, in the Seattle, Tacoma area. Then I go down to Los Angeles and I do a movie; that’s been my big field for seven years—I’ve made quite a few movies. I had a big part in Roots—The Second Generation. All I play are feature parts, not starring parts—I just have fun doing it.

Yes, now I’m back with the “vout” and “mac–roonie”! How I got into these concert things: Dizzy Gillespie is a very good friend of mine; he came and played Parnell’s in Seattle, and he said: “Well, you got to go to Europe, man. You should get to play those festivals they’re waiting for you.” I said? “I don’t know about that I’ve been out of the field so long.” He said: “But they’ve got your records around. People know you you’ve got to go over, man.” I said: “Well I’ll think about it.” So I got a call from New York George Wein’s office; they said: “We’ve got a European tour for you. Don’t book anything in July.” I said: “Okay I’ll go” and I made the tour.

They’ve just re–released my Groove Juice Special, Parts 1 and 2 on an album I think it’s in France and in New York some place. That includes “Hit That Jive, Jack”, and others. On this one they have “Flat Foot Floogie” that was my first song, and it became a hit. I had hits also with “Cement Mixer” and “Yep Rot Heresi” .

Earlier than that, I used to do a lot of the Major Bowes amateur shows in New York, and I was on so many times I had to kind of change my act around a little. I was uptown in Harlem one day when I saw Slam Stewart sawing the bass there; so I said: “Would you like to do a radio amateur show with me?” He said: “Yeah sure”. We got together, went over to NBC, rehearsed and did the audition you had to do. They said: “All right you’re on”, and that’s where we got started.

Then we did a big jam session at the Criterion Theatre there; the Andrews Sisters were just starting, and we had Bunny Berigan, Joe Marsala, Woody Herman and they named us Slim and Slam.

It was around ‘38 that we started up, and we kept it going till about ‘42—I had to leave then, and go in the Service. So we had to split up. Slam stayed on the East Coast, playing with different groups, all the while I was in the Service wishing I could get a chance to play. When I got out, I stayed out in California, and after my songs were hits I brought out the Slim Gaillard Trio.

How all the “vout” talk happened—when you’re lost for words, you always put in “voutie”: “Hey, what about that vout over there” and “Look at that macroonie over here”. But it all started from my songs”and scat–singing, or riffing, as they call it. Like, “Flat Foot Floogie” is a riff, that’s all, and you put some kind of lyrics to it. The “vout” was really expressed quite a bit from “Cement Mixer”, which came about when we did a recording session; we’d made three records, all arranged, with set timings and everything, and right after that the man said: “You got a half–hour now you can go out and cool.” We came outside, and in the middle of the street was a cement mixer doing a repair job. When we got back in, the man said: “Okay, what is it now, fellows?” I said “Cement Mixer puttee, puttee” and everybody broke up; they didn’t know what I was going to say.

We just started singing that, and made the breaks as we went along and that was the one that took off. The others took off later on, but that was the one that was not planned.

Then a company came and asked: would I do a recording session, and would I use Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker? And with Diz, Bird, Jack McVea, Dodo Marmarosa, Barn Brown and Zutty Singleton, we cut that “Slim’s Jam” and that was a jumping album every place, all the way.

When Dizzy and Charlie Parker first came out and played on the West Coast, the people were not ready for that bebop sound, but after they were there for a while it began to catch on. They were playing such great musical things they were a little ahead of the people. Same as I was on a concert tour once with the Stan Kenton big band, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Candido and June Christy; the Kenton band would open up, and when they did a special, the music was so far ahead of the audience they’d just look, and wonder what was going on. Later on, it was a big thing. All those sharp chords they would make sounded so good to me but anybody who didn’t know any music took longer to get into it. The chords were just theirs.

I worked three years at Birdland in New York, and all the bebop players were there—they were right up on it. But it didn’t bother me at all; I just got things together and kept swinging—keeping the voutie going! Charlie Christian and I used to jam together up at Minton’s Playhouse, at 117th Street, on Seventh Avenue in New York. That was great fun—he set a pace with his style. Actually, we played the same style as one another. Of course, I learned things from him.

Barney Kessel and I have had some little sessions too. But he used to play Country and Western, and he tells everybody that I turned him on to jazz. I like country music, jazz all kinds of music. He really swings, though. Well, I have a little bunch of fellows that I brought out into the jazz world. Like Philly Joe Jones—I brought him from Philadelphia to New York. He was afraid to come there, because they had all of the heavies in Birdland. He said: “Oh, Slim, I don’t think I can make it”; I said: “You’re going to.” He said: “You think I can?” I said: “Let’s go.” When I brought him into Birdland, he was shaking; he was so scared to walk up on the stage. But when we made our appearance up there, the house came down—now he felt relaxed.

That’s on his liner notes, and in interviews he always says: “Slim Gaillard brought me out of Philadelphia, and got me started in the big league.” I feel good about various people that I helped to get started in jazz.

What’s really great now is to see how the general public is going out big for jazz all over the world. The different types of music that really overwhelm everything are jazz, country and blues—not in that order, actually. Classical music is in its own class, of course. It seems that jazz is so strong that the cigarette companies, the makers of chewing gum, soft drinks and so on—everybody’s out for jazz. Most of the commercials you see on TV in the States have got jazz in them. It’s not only that it’s big now—it’s going to get bigger, because it’s a thing that the new generation coming up is into. I’ve been surprised to see even little twelve–year–old kids come up and say: “Oh, I like the jazz.” It could be a reaction against the pop music, and it could be that they like the sound of the improvisation of jazz. It’s an offspring of classical music, because although it may sound boring to you when you’re studying it, it’s valuable to your playing—that’s how various piano players, trumpet players, saxophonists or whatever can improvise from what they learn on that level.

Jazz is getting stronger and stronger every day, and will be right on the top. You get on a plane or a boat, you got jazz coming through the thing. You name it—supermarkets, stores, every place. And it’s the swinging jazz that’s coming through; that’s the one that’s cooking now.

This is pretty well the reason for me coming back. Actually, why I stayed away from music for seven years or more was because the music that was strong at that time was not jazz. Jazz was doing better, but nothing like it is now. You know, they had the go–go’s, the rocking, and the heavy thing; so I said: “Well, that’s big—let it go. I’ll back away, and wait until things change in a different direction.” So then they started releasing lots of my jazz records and other jazz records all over—now I feel it’s time for me to get back in."

Copyright © 1982 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved