Van Morrison : ‘Buona Sera Signorina’ – La primavera e qui!

Spring is here.

Is erraigh anseo.

As dawn breaks I set off for my morning run through the woods.

No more the sharp sting of winter winds.

No. Now the daffodils and bluebells are in bloom and through the echoing timber the melodies of the lark and thrush sweeten the air.

Nothing is so beautiful as spring.

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Bud and bloom and blossom.

A time of promise and an echo of the sweet beginning of being in Eden.

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

Time for La bella figura.

Time for me to carefully roll the Roadster out of its winter quarters.

Time to turn up the collar on the leather jacket, set the Donegal tweed cap at a jaunty angle and put some va va voom into the blue highways of the Surrey Hills.

Of course, there’s a Jukebox playlist for the occasion.

The Beach Boys, ‘I Get Around’, Thin Lizzy, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, Junior Parker, ‘Feelin Good’ set the wheels a rollin’ very nicely.

But, there’s ten versions of one song I always play as I swoop up and down the Hills to announce, top down and volume way, way up, that Spring has sprung!

Spring brings out the Italian in me – something about the brightness of the sun and the promise of golden days ahead.

Maybe, this year, I’ll see once more that old moon above the Mediterranean Sea.

And be woken by the sun over the mountains.

Il tempo per un festival.

La primavera e qui.

Buona Sera Signorina!

First, a version by the artist who will always remain first and foremost in my affections.

You can be sure that Van has spent many an hour listening to the original by Louis Prima (see earlier Jukebox tribute to Louis).

Perhaps he first played it on Sax when he was a member of the Monarchs Showband at the very dawn of his professional life in music.

Here in 1971 he careens through the song like a Cresta Run bobsleigher going for the record.

You can hear his obvious love and affection for Swing and Jump Blues in every note.

‘Buena Sera’ was written by Carl Sigman and Peter deRose – songwriters from the golden age of Tin Pan Alley whose hits would take a page or more to list (think, ‘All In The Game’ and ‘Deep Purple’ for starters).

In composing the song they must have imagined an audience including significant numbers of WW2 GIs who had indeed found love under the moon and stars of Naples.

Some who brought brides home must have smiled at the memory of those Mediterranean nights and some who decided to return to the sweetheart waiting at home must have smiled more ruefully as they remembered the girl they left beside the beautiful Bay of Naples.

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Some signorinas you can never forget!

In 1961 as Van Morrison was setting out on his career in the clubs of Northern Ireland and Hamburg Ray Gelato was born in London.

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Ray, the son of an American Serviceman, grew up, like Van, imbibing the music of Louis Jordan and Louis Prima in the home.

He was especially fond of the Sax playing of Sam Butera and determined to follow his ‘Everybody up on the Dance Floor now!’ grandstanding Tenor style.

He has succeeded completely in that ambition.

Il tempo per un festival!

There’s a lovely sultry sway to Ray’s version and there’s no good resisting you just gonna have to cut a rug to this one!

Ray is famed for the sheer brio and energy he brings to every live performance – something I can vouch for having seen him many times myself (Paul McCartney booked him as his wedding band and I would have too if finances had allowed).

I am going to sign off Signori, Signorinas and Signoras with a version by a great favourite of The Jukebox – Mr Acker Bilk.

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Acker’s version must surely paint a smile on every face, lift every heart and buoy every spirit!

I have been known to play this one on repeat all the way from Surrey to Cornwall when the Sun has taken up its proper place in the heavens.

La primavera e qui. La primavera e qui.

 

Notes:

I heartily recommend Ray Gelato’s ‘Wonderful’ CD which has him romping through a dozen classics of Italian Song.

If you ever see he’s playing somewhere near you don’t hesitate – go!

Of course, as you will know by now, you can never have too many Van Morrison records while Acker Bilk’s 50s and eary 60s recordings are bottled joy which ought to be medically prescribed to raise the global index of well being.

 

Louis Prima : Let’s Have A Party!!

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You know him. We all know him. You know who I mean. The Guy. That Guy. You met him at school, at college, or you met him at work or at what in your glory days was your favourite bar. He might have been your uncle or your dad’s best buddy – call him Eddie or Tom or Mike. That guy – the walking, talking, laughing, crying, joking, catalytic, charismatic, party starting Guy! Yes, that Guy.

Might be years since you’ve seen him but you can still remember and spin the stories: ‘What about the time he … And would have got arrested if the cop hadn’t had him singing at his wedding!’

Well, Show Business and the music industry is heavily populated with those Guys – it comes with the territory of exposing yourself by getting up on stage for an audience to judge just how good you are or indeed if you’re any good at all.

And, of all those Guys, of all those Guys, the Guy who stands out for me as the most catalytic and charismatic; the most guaranteed to start the party you can never forget was Louis Prima. Let’s have a Party!

To start the party a recording from Louis’ great period with Capitol Records in the late 1950s when he produced a fountain of hits that had crowds jumping, jiving and wailing all across the world (but most especially in Las Vegas where he had legendary residencies at the Sahara and the Desert Inn).

Well, that has all the fun of the circus! Louis sells this operatic paean to love under the moon and stars of Naples with a mixture of genuine romanticism and sheer show biz pizazz. Often in Prima performances he seems to wind up like a baseball pitcher deciding, seemingly in the moment, whether to throw the fastball, the change up or the curve according to his own mood or the mood he senses coming across the footlights from the audience (and even in the studios Louis Prima always played to the audience).

The distinctive shuffle beat that is at the heart of Louis’ 50s sound is augmented by a wailing sax curtesy of bandleader and right and left hand man Sam Butera and by an assortment of hortatory foot stomps and handclaps. Now that I think of it Louis Prima may just be the most musically hortatory performer who ever lived!

I imagine that among the audience listening to this song will have been many former WW2 GIs who had indeed found love under the moon and stars of Naples. Some who brought brides home must have smiled at the memory of those Mediterranean nights and some who decided to return to the sweetheart waiting at home must have smiled more ruefully as they remembered the girl they left beside the beautiful Bay of Naples.

Louis Prima started out in New Orleans imbibing the spirit of Jazz in the cradle of the music. But, like so many others it was in the Big Apple in the mid/late 1930s that his career took off both as the dynamic live performer who could sell out theatres in both the white and the black communities and as a recording artist. It was in New York in 1936 that he wrote and recorded, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ which in the version by Benny Goodman would become an iconic Jazz standard.

Louis, notwithstanding Italy’s Axis status during WW2, continued to record and have hits with songs celebrating Italian-American life during the course of the war. ‘Angelina’ may well have introduced many rural Americans to terms like,’Pizzeria’ and ‘Pasta’. Few, however would have needed dictionaries to get the point of, ‘Please No Squeeze Da Banana’ or ‘Bacci Galupe (Made Love On The Stoop).

Post war Louis struggled to maintain a big band along with his stable of horses and alimony payments to a string of ex-wives. Key developments that would lead to his renaissance as a big league performer were his meeting with the 17 year old singer(and soon to be wife number 4) Keely Smith in 1948 (when Louis was 37) and his hiring of Sam Butera as band leader and arranger for his Vegas residencies and for his recordings with Capitol. Buttera, a fluent, no nonsense tenor sax player had a great instinct for songs and arrangements that would suit Louis Prima’s crowd pleasing genius.

It was Sam Butera who had the inspired idea to mash-up the songs, ‘Just A Gigolo’ and, ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ to create a matchless vehicle for Louis Prima’s overwhelming ebullience. The live version below features what can only be called a burlesque performance with Louis clowning and mugging like a solid-gone hep cat. The band and the sometimes bewildered Keely do their best to keep up and echo their leader as he plays with the song, them and the audience.

Louis could tone things down on record as you can hear in his and Keeley’s hit duet on Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s evergreen romantic classic, ‘That Old Black Magic’ which won a Grammy Best Song in 1959. I still think you can insert an imaginary exclamation mark after every line sung by Louis but it does not to my mind distract from a fine recording which showcases a cool Keely vocal.

The late 50s and early 60s were golden days for Louis (despite splitting with Keeley in 1960) as he hit peak form as a live performer while recording several excellent sets for Capitol. He was, of course, hit by the tsunami of The Beatles appearance on the scene and it might have seemed that his days as an artist of note were numbered. Louis reacted by continuing as a considerable live draw and by setting up his own record label.

Then by one of those quirks of fate beyond all analysis Louis found himself right back in the spotlight with an enormous hit through the unlikeliest of collaborators – Walt Disney! Louis had recorded Mary Poppins and Robin Hood LPs and a Winnie The Pooh theme before he scored a great triumph with his movie stealing performance of the Sherman Brothers’, ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ as the voice of the Orangutang, ‘King Louie’ in the film, ‘The Jungle Book’.

With the assistance of Phil Harris, voicing the character of Baloo the Bear, Louis lays down a classic performance that still stirs young and old some 50 years after it was recorded. I love the way the song builds slowly, beginning almost drowsily and the way Louis takes such care in enunciating the lyric.

I remember first hearing this song as an 11 year old at the cinema and being thrilled by the abandon of the characters to rhythm, to the beat! I also remember that even on the way out of the cinema some bright sparks had already memorised the song and gave stentorian performances with exaggerated simian antics to puzzled passers by going about their Saturday morning shopping. That defines an instant classic pretty well for me!

Louis Prima never gave up performing – how could he? It was oxygen and ambrosia for him. Louis died, after three years in a coma on 24 August 1978. He had lived a big-hearted, generous, big life. Louis packed an enormous amount of music and joy into his 67 years.

SING UP LOUIS! SING UP!

Louis Prima! Now that was some Guy!

Recommended Recordings:

‘The Wildest’ (Capitol 1958)

‘The Widest Comes Home!’ (Capitol 1962)

‘Lake Tahoe Prima Style’ (Live on Capitol 1962)

There is also a valuable film documentary, ‘The Wildest’ from 1999 which shows Louis in unstoppable full flow.

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