Singer Louis Prima Jr. was on hand to celebrate the opening of the Prima Lobby at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, Nov. 14. The lobby, outside the center’s The Vogel theater, includes informational panels and a video kiosk that honor the music of Louis Prima and his wife Gia Maione Prima (who sang in his band and also recorded on her own) and offer information on their lives and times.
Inside The Vogel, Louis Prima Jr. performed three songs with New Orleans-based trombonist and singer Jeffery Miller and Miller’s quartet: two of his father’s signature numbers, “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” as well as the standard “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.” Miller and his quartet also performed a set of their own, and a short film about Louis and Gia, narrated by writer Will Friedwald, was shown.
“This is what my mother wanted: To keep good music going into the future,” said Louis Prima Jr., who is also now based in New Orleans, and who tours and records, performing his father’s music as well as other material, with his own band, The Witnesses.
Gia Maione Prima was born in Roebling (Burlington County) and grew up in Toms River.
“I’m sure, as a local girl, she would love seeing her name here, on a local theater,” said Anthony Sylvester of the Gia Maione Prima Foundation, which is sponsoring the lobby. The foundation also supports Basie initiatives such as the Louis and Gia Maione Prima Summer Camp, which offers free instruction for beginning and intermediate Monmouth County students.
Louis Prima died in 1978 after a long, hit-filled career that stretched from the ’20s into the ’70s. Gia took control of his catalog after his death, remastering and re-releasing his songs and licensing them for use in television, film and advertising. With the help of Sylvester (her attorney, a partner in the Florham Park-based firm Sherman Atlas Sylvester & Stamelman), she created the foundation in 2011, before dying in 2013.
Brunch was served for invited guests inside The Vogel, which inspired Sylvester to suggest to Basie president and CEO Adam Philipson that The Vogel regularly host jazz brunches. Philipson said he loves the idea, so keep an eye on that, hopefully, happening in the future.
The Vogel, named after Basie supporters Anne and Sheldon Vogel, is a 20,000-square-foot space that opened in the fall of 2020 and offers more intimate shows (with a capacity of 150) than the shows in the Basie’s main theater. For a list of upcoming events there, visit thebasie.org/venue/the-vogel.
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