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Five or ten years ago when Louis Prima was still involved in the unprofitable business of playing jazz, he was no more important than any other "paesano" to the vast Italian population of this country. But just two weeks ago, when the agents of WHCN went in town to get the New Orleans-born trumpet man for their Jazz Orgy, the stage entrance was literally jammed with enthusiastic autograph seekers from Hanover Street.
Along with Eddie Miller, Wingy Mannone, Irving Fazola, and Nappy Lamare, Prima belongs to the second generation of hot musicians from the New Orleans white district. He grew up on the strong musical diet of "Papa" Laine, Dave Perkins, "Yellow" Nunez, "Stale Bread" Lacoume and others of that calibre, who played in what has been called the New Orleans white style.
Identifying any variety of modern hot music as New Orleans white would be a tough job. "Dixieland," as played by Bob Crosby's boys and the Dorsey Clambake Seven contained a few of the ingredients, but the last thirty years have done something to the main features that distinguished the old N.O.W. men. Compare some of those ancient fossilized discs by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Crosby and Dorsey if you doubt it. The older numbers were almost always played in a hell-for-leather tempo with a lot of those pogo stick ragtime mannerisms. The trumpet was considerably more limited in function, the rhythm less obviously two-beat, and the trombone quite tuba-like. The amount of electrical excitement generated by the old timers was considerable, however, a quality with which their successors do not seem much concerned.
Without any recognized style, these members of the second generation share, or at least did share until recently, certain common qualities carried over from their Crescent City days. Most of them hailed from families steeped in musical tradition, and as a matter of course were well grounded in the fundamentals of their instruments. That is why Eddie Miller is famed as the man with cleanest tone in the saxophone playing business, and why Irv Fazola was able to get a job as soloist with the technically high faluting Claude Thornhill aggregation.
New Orleans was largely populated by Frenchmen, Italians and Spaniards. What with the original families and those who have immigrated across the southern border, the greatest portion of the Crescent City's white population is of Latin origin. It creeps into their music now and again, often very effectively. Mannone's old "Isle of Capri" or his newer "O Sole Mio," Bob Crosby's "Palesteena" or "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," are examples of jazz somewhat on the Nespolitan side.
Like garlie in a pizza pie, however, a little goes a long way. When it is laid on as thickly as Prima has been laying it lately, even the most voracious bobby socker gets indigestion. Prima has taken away all of the high rolling rhythms and sweeping operatic phrases which make the latinized jazz of latter-day N.O.W. jazz sparkle and has left only those bawdier mannerisms associated with the fruit man on the corner.
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