The story in yesterday’s Rifftides post about Jaki Byard quoted drummer Alan Dawson’s excursion into phrases originated by the late Slim Gaillard. It could be argued that Gaillard was the hippest and most influential of all the hipsters of the 1940s and 1950s. He remained active well into his and the century’s seventh decade. He was an accomplished pianist and guitarist, but the public knew Gaillard best for vocal performances incorporating quirky language that had something in common with English. This piece updates an earlier Rifftides post about one of bebop’s most endearing figures.
“Flat Foot Floogie,” I explained, “Cement Mixer, Putti Putti,” “Matzoh ball Oroony,” and—just to make sure they understood—”Poppity Poppity Poppity Pop Go De Motorcycle.”
Their blank stares made me realize that there must be other folks in the 21st century in need of remedial cultural education. We’ll begin with an audiovisual aid.
That was Slim Gaillard on The Tonight Show. The music as he walked off was the theme during Steve Allen’s tenure as host of the program, so it was probably the mid-1950s. By then, Gaillard had behind him a couple of decades of success that began in the late ’30s with Slim and Slam, a duo of Gaillard and bassist Slam Stewart. Their big hits were “Flat Foot Floogie” and “Cement Mixer,” novelties executed with superb musicianship. Columbia’s The Groove Juice Special CD has 20 of their recordings. Later, Gaillard teamed with another bassist, Bam Brown. Their Laughing In Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years has several tracks that include the great bop pianist Dodo Marmarosa and such other guests as Ben Webster, Dick Hyman, Ray Brown and Milt Jackson. Slim Gaillard at Birdland 1951 is a collection of performances when he was a regular at the New York club, with Art Blakey, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Terry Gibbs, Brew Moore and others sitting in.
Well aware of Gaillard’s musicianship, the fathers of bebop, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, were happy to be guests on his recording session in Los Angeles on December 29, 1945. Gaillard is the pianist and raconteur, Jack McVea the tenor saxophonist, with Bam Brown on bass and Zutty Singleton playing drums in the blues titled “Slim’s Jam,” which is followed by the motorcycle epic.
Accurate information about Gaillard’s earliest years is hard to come by. This Wikipedia article seems to have what is available. If you would like to sample Gaillard’s extensive output of recordings, YouTube has dozens of them. Go here. In his later years, Gaillard sometimes worked as an actor in television shows including Marcus Welby M.D., Charlie’s Angels and Mission Impossible. He continued to appear in clubs in the US and Great Britain. He died in London in 1991 at age 75.