[Dixielandjazz] Slim Gaillard/at Birdland 1951

Thad McArthur wthadmc at whidbey.com
Fri Dec 7 05:23:42 PST 2012

Hello List,

I saw Slim Gaillard in action only once--the summer of 1951--1578 Broadway, 
the old Birdland.  I was familiar with Slim's output--Cement Mixer etc. and 
a fraternity brother (U of W, Seattle, WA) was making considerably more than 
spending money in Seattle bars with a piano act based on Slim's material and 
probably moreso on Harry the Hipster Gibson's routines.  My friend Larry 
Greene considered himself a true Voution.

I came up to New York on a Saturday morning from New Brunswick (I was a PFC, 
US Army, Raritan Arsenal) to catch the matinee of South Pacific, then in the 
early evening up to the old Lewisohn Stadium on the Columbia University 
campus (sold out capacity of 20,000) to see Richard Rogers conduct a 90 
piece orchestra with about twelve of Broadway's brightest performers thru 
his entire repetoire and finally the audience in tears singing along with 
the show--a pretty moving experience.

About 10:30 in the evening I got back down to BIRDLAND to enjoy GEORGE 
SHEARING and his Quintet.  SLIM GAILLARD, SLAM STEWART and several other 
sycophants were the back up act.  George Shearing was great--probably at the 
height of his popularity.  We dated to his music, his music was everywhere. 
After about 3 hours of the alternating acts I started to get a little tired. 
I would nod off during the Shearing set and come wide awake when SLIM and 
his group were on.  SLIM and his music and routines held the audience in the 
palm of his hand until almost 4:00 in the morning.  His talent and charisma 
topped an unforgetable day of music and entertainment.  SLIM really had the 

One of the older listers,  Thad McArthur

-----Original Message----- 
From: Ken Mathieson
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2012 4:44 PM
To: Thad McArthur
Cc: Dixieland Jazz Mailing List
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Slim Gaillard

Hi Folks,

The recent thread about Slim jolted my memory about incidents from the gigs 
I played with him on his visits to Scotland. A Slim gig always had its 
memorable moments and sometimes these even involved music!

For instance, on his visit to the Black Bull Jazz Club in Milngavie, near 
Glasgow, the first set consisted of him talking to a mystified audience, 
singing a few songs (from memory they were all I Got Rhythm changes) and 
played a guitar which was not only out of tune with the piano, but was 
wildly out of tune with itself. At the interval, he left his guitar on the 
stage and the pianist and I took him to another bar so that the bassist 
could tune the guitar before the second set. If Slim noticed the difference 
he never said anything. During the second set, he played Satin Doll on 
piano. The people at the front tables were in hysterics, but those further 
back were strangely quiet. The upright piano had its back to the drums so I 
couldn't see what was going on, but it was his famous back-of-the-hands 
piano-playing shtick where he played melody and accompaniment palms-up, 
striking the keys with his finger knuckles. It's a good trick and even more 
impressive when you consider that the normal finger positions are reversed, 
so that the left thumb is playing roots and its little finger is playing the 
top note of the chord. Meanwhile the right thumb has the top line of the 

Another gig was for the Glasgow Jazz Festival on an old ferryboat which had 
been converted into a bar-restaurant-entertainment venue. When Slim arrived 
for the sound check he refused to go on board, saying he would never go on 
another ship since his stranding on Crete in his childhood. He was fond of 
telling this story about being taken by his father, who was a ship's 
steward, on a trip from USA to the Mediterranean and being separated from 
his father on the day the ship left for the return voyage. He was allegedly 
found wandering around the port and was taken in by a local family and 
looked after until his father returned a year later, but whether any of this 
was true or not is highly debatable. Anyway, back at the gig  in Glasgow, he 
was taken by his driver to a riverside pub to take his mind off the whole 
ship business and never appeared for the sound-check or rehearsal. 
Meanwhile, back on the ferryboat, the audience had arrived, the band was 
set-up and ready and, with the clock ticking and no Slim in sight, the 
audience were told they would get their money back if Slim failed to show.

Just before the gig was due to hit, Slim appeared on board in very relaxed 
form and explained to the waiting audience that he didn't like going on 
ships because "water wasn't his favourite vegetable!" The gig's sponsor was 
Southern Comfort and, when Slim discovered this, he started hinting to the 
guy on the Southern Comfort dispense bar that it would be good for his 
business if he and the band could have a little taste from time to time. 
Every time a waitress passed the band stand, Slim would remind her that the 
band and he had a special deal with the bar boss and that our glasses were 
all empty. The bar boss could only grin and pretend it wasn't hurting. 
Pretty soon, Slim started hitting on the waitresses about "a bottle for my 
friends at this table over here" and before long he was looking for drinks 
on the house for everyone. The bar boss went along with it for a while, but 
pretty soon it was a pretty chaotic gig and I suspect he got fired for 
giving the stuff away. But then, I've tasted it and suspect it would be 
quite hard to give the stuff away.

Happy Days!


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