Slim Gaillard  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Bulee "Slim" Gaillard (January 4, 1916February 26, 1991) was an African-American jazz singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist, noted for his vocalese singing and word play. A related singer in the idiom of humorous jazz singing is Babs Gonzales, who also flourished in the 1940s.

Along with Gaillard's date of birth, his family lineage and place of birth are disputed. One account is that he was born in Santa Clara, Cuba of a Greek father and an Afro-Cuban mother; another is that he was born in Pensacola, Florida to a German father and an African-American mother. There is also question as to whether he was actually born in Detroit. Regardless, Gaillard grew up in Detroit and moved to New York City in the 1930s.

Gaillard first rose to prominence in the late 1930s as part of Slim & Slam, a jazz novelty act he formed with bassist Slam Stewart. Their hits included "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)", "Cement Mixer (Puti Puti)" and the hipster anthem, "The Groove Juice Special (Opera in Vout)". The duo performs in the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin'.

Gaillard's appeal was similar to Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan in that he presented a hip style with broad appeal (for example in his children's song "Down by the Station"). Unlike them, he was a master improviser whose stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables like MacVoutie O-reeney. One such performance is celebrated in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Gaillard later teamed with bassist Bam Brown; Slim and Bam can be seen in a 1948 motion picture featurette -- with the Gaillardese title O'Voutie O'Rooney -- filmed live at one of their nightclub performances.

In the late forties and early fifties, Gaillard frequently opened at Birdland for such greats as Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Coleman Hawkins. His 1945 session with Parker and Dizzy Gillespie is notable, both musically and for its relaxed convivial air. Gaillard could play several instruments, and always managed to turn the performance from hip jazz to comedy: he would play the guitar with his left hand fretting from the top of the neck, or would play credible piano solos with his palms facing up.

Gaillard appeared in several shows in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Marcus Welby, M.D., Charlie's Angels, Mission Impossible, Medical Center, and Along Came Bronson. He also appeared in the 1970s TV series Roots: The Next Generations and reprised some of his old hits on the NBC primetime variety program, The Chuck Barris Rah Rah Show. By the early 1980s he was touring the European jazz festival circuit, playing with such musicians as Arnett Cobb. He also played with George Melly and John Chilton's Feetwarmers, appearing on their BBC television series.

He later appeared in the musical film Absolute Beginners (1986) singing "Selling Out".

In 1992, the Belgian group De Nieuwe Snaar released an amusing ode (in Dutch) to Gaillard, on their CD William.

Gaillard's daughter Janis Hunter is the ex-wife of R&B/soul legend Marvin Gaye, and the mother of actress and singer Nona Gaye (b. 1974) and son Frankie Christian Gaye (b. 1975).


"Bring me a double order of areetee footees with a little hot sauce on it, that oughta about fix it."

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