Slim Gaillard

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Slim Gaillard
Slim Gaillard.jpg
Gaillard with guitar, at the Queens Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 1982
Background information
Birth name Bulee Gaillard
Also known as "Slim"
Born (1916-01-04)January 4, 1916
Died February 26, 1991(1991-02-26) (aged 75)
London, England, U.K.
Genres Jazz, Bebop
Occupation(s) singer, guitarist, pianist
Instruments piano, guitar
Years active 1930–1970
Labels Savoy, Dial, Verve
Associated acts Slim & Slam

Bulee "Slim" Gaillard (January 4, 1916 – February 26, 1991), also known as McVouty, was an American jazz singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and vibraphonist, noted for his vocalese singing and word play in a language he called "Vout". (In addition to speaking eight other languages, Gaillard wrote a dictionary for his own constructed language.) [1]

Early life[edit]

Along with Gaillard's date of birth, his family lineage and place of birth are disputed. By his own account, he was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, of a Greek father and an Afro-Cuban mother.[2] Another claims that he was born in Pensacola, Florida, to a German father and an African-American mother.[3] Adding to the confusion, the 1920 U.S. Census lists a 19-month-old boy named "Beuler Gillard" in Pensacola, but born in Alabama.[4] He grew up in Detroit and moved to New York City in the 1930s.

According to the obituaries in leading newspapers, Gaillard's childhood in Cuba was spent cutting sugar-cane and picking bananas, as well as occasionally going to sea with his father. However, at the age of 12, he accompanied his father on a world voyage and was accidentally left behind on the island of Crete. After working on the island for a while, he made his home in Detroit. In America, Gaillard worked in an abattoir, trained as a mortician and also had been employed at Ford's Motor Works.[citation needed]


Gaillard first rose to prominence in the late 1930s as part of Slim & Slam, a jazz novelty act he formed with bassist Slam Stewart.[5] Their hits included "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)", "Cement Mixer (Putti Putti)" and the hipster anthem, "The Groove Juice Special (Opera in Vout)". The duo performs in the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin'.

Gaillard's appeal was similar to Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan in that he presented a hip style with broad appeal (for example in his children's song "Down by the Station"). Unlike them, he was a master improviser whose stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics, along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie O-reeney. One such performance is celebrated in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Gaillard, with Dodo Marmarosa on piano, guested a number of times on "Command Performance", recorded at KNX radio studios in Hollywood in the 1940s and distributed on transcription discs to American troops in WW2.

Gaillard later teamed with bassist Bam Brown; Slim and Bam can be seen in a 1948 motion picture featurette—with the Gaillardese title O'Voutie O'Rooney—filmed live at one of their nightclub performances.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Gaillard frequently opened at Birdland for such greats as Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Coleman Hawkins. His December 1945 session with Parker and Dizzy Gillespie is notable, both musically and for its relaxed convivial air. "Slim's Jam", from that session, is one of the earliest known recordings of Parker's speaking voice.[6]

Gaillard could play several instruments, and always managed to turn the performance from hip jazz to comedy: he would play the guitar with his left hand fretting from the top of the neck, or would play credible piano solos with his palms facing up. Gaillard also wrote the theme song introducing the Peter Potter radio show. In addition, in 1950 Slim wrote and recorded "Don Pitts On The Air" theme intro for San Francisco DJ, Don Pitts. March 27, 2008 Pitts theme song entered into the archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH.

Gaillard appeared in several shows in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Marcus Welby, M.D., Charlie's Angels, Mission Impossible, Medical Center, Flip (The Flip Wilson Show), and Then Came Bronson. He also appeared in the 1970s TV series Roots: The Next Generations and reprised some of his old hits on the NBC primetime variety program, The Chuck Barris Rah Rah Show. By the early 1980s Gaillard was touring the European jazz festival circuit, playing with such musicians as Arnett Cobb. He also played with George Melly and John Chilton's Feetwarmers, appearing on their BBC television series and also occasionally deputising for Melly when he was unwell. Gaillard's behaviour on stage was often erratic and nerve-wracking for the accompanying musicians. He also made a guest appearance on Show 106 of the 1980s music program Night Music, an NBC late-night music series hosted by David Sanborn.

Gaillard later appeared in the musical film Absolute Beginners (1986), singing "Selling Out".

In the autumn of 1989, the BBC aired director Anthony Wall's four-part documentary on Gaillard as an 'Arena Special' presentation by the Arena series, entitled Slim Gaillard's Civilisation:

  • "A Traveller's Tale" (52:51), on 22 October 1989[7]
  • "How High The Moon" (60:50), on 29 October 1989[8]
  • "My Dinner With Dizzy" (59:59), on 5 November 1989[9]
  • "Everything's OK In The UK" (54:40), on 12 November 1989.[10]


Gaillard used Yiddish in at least two of his songs, "Dunkin Bagels", and "Matzo Balls", where he refers to numerous Jewish ethnic dishes eaten by Ashkenazi Jews.[11][12] The songs were issued by the Slim Gaillard Quartet in 1945 on the Melodisc label, featuring Gaillard on guitar, Zutty Singleton on drums, "Tiny" Brown on bass and Dodo Marmarosa on piano. "Dunkin Bagels" was later included in the 2010 compilation CD Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations, issued by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation.[13] "Matzo Balls" is played on the radio by John Goodman's character ("Al Yackey") in the 1989 Steven Spielberg film Always.[14]

Arabic is also used in some of Gaillard's songs, for example "Yep-Roc-Heresay" and "Arabian Boogie".


In 1992, the Belgian group De Nieuwe Snaar released an amusing ode (in Dutch) to Gaillard, on their CD William.

Personal life[edit]

Gaillard's daughter Janis Hunter is the ex-wife of singer Marvin Gaye, and the mother of actress and singer Nona Gaye and Frankie Christian Gaye, Gaillard's grandchildren.


  1. ^ Slim Gaillard, Vout-O-Reenee Dictionary, Steven Polatnick, PoCreations, 1998-2010.
  2. ^ Slim Gaillard's Biography.
  3. ^ "Slim Gaillard", Boogie Woogie Flu, April 20, 2007.
  4. ^ "Fourteenth Census of the United States (1920) [database on-line], Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida, Enumeration District: 38, p. 33A, Lines: 13-19, household of Mary Gaillard". Ogden, Utah: The Generations Network. 1920-01-07. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  5. ^ Britt, Stan; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). "Gaillard, Slim". In Barry Kernfeld. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, vol. 2 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 2. ISBN 1561592846. 
  6. ^ Charlie Parker Sessionography, Allan J. Sutherland, 2003.
  7. ^ Wall, Anthony (22 October 1989). "A Traveller's Tale". An Arena Special:Slim Gaillard's Civilisation. Episode 1. BBC Two. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Wall, Anthony (29 October 1989). "How High The Moon". An Arena Special:Slim Gaillard's Civilisation. Episode 2. BBC Two. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  9. ^ Wall, Anthony (5 November 1989). "My Dinner With Dizzy". An Arena Special:Slim Gaillard's Civilisation. Episode 3. BBC Two. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  10. ^ Wall, Anthony (12 November 1989). "Everything's OK In The UK". An Arena Special:Slim Gaillard's Civilisation. Episode 4. BBC Two. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  11. ^ "Dunkin Bagels". YouTube.
  12. ^ "Slim Gaillard - Matzo Balls" on YouTube.
  13. ^ "BLACK SABBATH: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations" at
  14. ^ "Always (1989)", IMDb.

External links[edit]