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In a career that spanned four decades, Prima infused the grit and grace of Dixieland jazz with swing rhythms, big band sounds, and the first resonances of rock ‘n’ roll as he enthralled audiences with a stage presence steeped in vaudeville tradition. A native of New Orleans, this Guy Lombardo protege known as “The Italian Satchmo” was the country’s smashing new jazz sensation at New York’s Famous Door in the 1930s. He went on to be a successful big band leader and a Vegas nightclub staple, virtually creating the concept of the lounge act. But because Prima, like fellow New Orleanian Louis Armstrong, emphasized his talents as an entertainer, he was frequently dismissed throughout most of his career by serious jazz critics, an omission that would be corrected only after his death.
Married five times and involved with numerous women in between, Prima has more often been remembered for his colorful relationships and quirky personality than for his abilities as a trumpeter and singer. After his death in 1978, his music gradually disappeared and jazz scholars rarely mentioned his name.
Nudging Prima’s legacy into the limelight the musician deserves, Garry Boulard nimbly explores Prima’s ability to maintain a lifelong career, his knack for self-promotion, and how the cities in which he lived and performed – New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas – uniquely and indelibly informed his style. In a new preface, the author considers how the resurgence of big band and swing music in the late 1990s catapulted Prima and his music back into the public eye.