The Troy Street Observer

Oct 16, 1951: Vout-O-Reenee! Slim Gaillard at the Hi-Hat

In the first half of the 1950s, the Hi-Hat was one of Boston’s busiest clubs, and the best jazz and rhythm & blues artists performed there regularly. Charlie Parker appeared five times, Oscar Peterson six, Dizzy Gillespie seven, Illinois Jacquet eight. But the most popular star was Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, who played the Hi-Hat eleven times in 1951-54. He commenced his first engagement on October 16, 1951.

Photo of Slim Gaillard
McVouty himself, in an undated publicity photo

Gaillard played piano and more often guitar, but we remember him especially as a singer. There was his duo with bassist Slam Stewart, with whom he had the big late thirties hit, “Flat Foot Floogie.” It got Slim and Slam to Hollywood, but army service interrupted Gaillard’s career. After the war there were records with the likes of Leo Watson and Dizzy Gillespie, and a well-known trio with drummer Scatman Crothers and bassist Bam Brown. This is when his wordplay hit its peak.

Vout was a nonsense language invented by Gaillard, as well as his stage gimmick. As with Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary, everyday words assumed new meanings, but it didn’t end with that. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, vout was “a humorous language invented by Gaillard in which he inserted nonsense syllables into everyday words.” You can ponder pages of the vout dictionary here.

Slim’s Boston popularity was off the charts. After that first engagement in October 1951, he was back for four weeks in December/January, then another week in February 1952. Then September 1952, another long stretch in December/January, and three visits in 1953, and three more in 1954. Gaillard worked the Christmas and New Year’s holidays all four years.

Gaillard was traveling as a single in those years, so he usually worked with the house bands, or with the R&B combo of Paul “Fat Man” Robinson. For two of his year-end engagements, the Teddy Buckner trio shared the bill and presumably backed Gaillard.

One more fact about Gaillard: he was a generous man. Whenever Slim was in town, Daily Record columnist George Clarke was writing about shows he organized for the Red Cross in the veterans hospitals—at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, the base hospital at Fort Devens, the Murphy Army Hospital in Waltham. The New Year’s Day shows were the big ones, involving all the name bands playing in the various clubs. In 1952, the show at the Chelsea hospital included the bands of J.C. Higginbotham, Marian McPartland, Fat Man Robinson, and big band singer Dolly Dawn.

Gaillard’s career went into decline in the mid-1950s when the jive singers fell from fashion, and he was out of music until the 1970s, when his career revived. He died in 1991.

There’s not so much vout in this one, but it is my favorite Gaillard number, the social commentary “Atomic Cocktail.”

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