Louis Prima Jr. made guest appearances in his famous father’s stage show as a child, in the ’70s. But when he grew up and formed his own band, Problem Child, in the ’80s, he played rock, not the swing and jump blues that had made Louis Prima Sr. a star.
By the mid-’90s, though, Problem Child had broken up, and swing and jump blues were hot again, so Prima re-launched his career as a fun-loving, hard-driving bandleader, trumpeter and showman in his father’s mold. He and his band The Witnesses will play Louis Prima Sr.’s hits — such as “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “When You’re Smiling” and “I Wanna Be Like You” — as well as their own songs at the free Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival, Aug 20 at the Morristown Green. They’ll take the stage at 4 p.m.; see the complete schedule below.
Louis Prima Sr. died when Louis Prima Jr., the youngest of his six children, was just 13. In a phone interview, Prima Jr., now 51, was asked if he’s doing this as a way to stay close to his father. But he said that’s not really what it’s about.
“His contribution to music as we know it, from the ’30s to today, is immeasurable, and a lot of people just don’t realize the wealth of material that he wrote,” he says. “It’s kind of the background of our lives, since the 1930s. That’s what’s important to me.
“It’s not necessarily wanting to stay close. I mean, our family was close, I have fond memories. But I would like to see him recognized exactly for what he was.”
The high-energy show he and the Witnesses do, however, is more about entertainment than education.
“We’re minimalistic on storytelling,” he says. “However there are a couple of times, and especially when we play ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ where I give a little history lesson, just to make sure people know. The rest of what we do is kind of behind the scenes: Our efforts in 2010 to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, our ongoing effort to get him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
There is also the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, named after Prima Jr.’s mother and supporting music education. “There are so many things we’re involved with, and actively doing, to keep my father’s and my mother’s names alive and relevant,” says Prima Jr.
If Prima Sr. ever went into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it would be in the early influence category.
“He should absolutely be in there,” says Prima Jr. “If you interviewed and spoke to 90 percent of the inductees who are in there now, absolutely every one of them will bring up Louis Prima. I’ve had conversations with everybody from Snoop Dogg to Keith Richards.”
Here is the festival’s schedule. For information, visit morristownjazzandblues.com.
Noon: George Gee Swing Orchestra
2 p.m.: The Bucky Pizzarelli Quartet, featuring guitarist Ed Laub, violinist Aaron Weinstein and bassist Martin Pizzarelli.
4 p.m.: Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses
6 p.m.: Quinn Sullivan
8 p.m.: Robert Randolph and the Family Band