Louis Prima Centennial Colloquium

Louis Prima
Louis Prima

Please join us Saturday, December 11, 2010, from 9:00am to 5:00 pm, at Freeman Auditorium (next to the Newcomb Art Gallery), Tulane University for the Louis Prima Centennial Colloquium.

The colloquium is free and open to the public and is made possible through the generous support of The Jay Pritzker Foundation, the New Orleans/Gulf South Center of Tulane University, OffBeat, and French Quarter Festivals. Inc. Please call 865-5688 to reserve seats.


9:00 am Opening remarks, Bruce Raeburn, Curator, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

9:30 am Dan Morgenstern, "Louis Prima and Pee Wee Russell: A Great Unsung Partnership"
"Louis and Pee Wee" will trace the productive and happy musical partnership of Messrs. Prima and Russell (1934-36), via records, the short film "Swing It" (a surprise in the cast), and some personal grace notes.

10:30 15 minute coffee break

10:45 am Will Friedwald, "Deconstructing Louis : The Life, the Legend, the Lasagna"
Friedwald will discuss Prima’s influence as an iconic popular singer and entertainer and his role as America’s first "overtly ethnic celebrity."

11:45 am-1:30 pm Lunch

1:30-2:30 pm Marcello Piras, "Prima di Prima (Before Prima): Some Historical Background"
Piras will address the historical background of Prima and other musicians, born either in Sicily or from Sicilian parents, who came to New Orleans and could merge with the burgeoning jazz scene in a seemingly effortless way. Such historical fact has been cited as proof of the early contribution of white musicians to jazz, perhaps assuming that “white” be an effective descriptive tag for any European, in either cultural or ethnic terms, with the assumption that there were “pure” blacks and “pure” whites who then “merged” in the USA being instrumental to the USA-as-melting-pot myth. Reality is much more complex.

2:45-3:45 pm Jack Stewart, “Louis Prima: Something Old, Something New, and Something Unexpected
Throughout his career Louis Prima's music was constantly evolving while retaining a surprisingly large number of the basic New Orleans elements that he and many others started with.  Many of these early influences in their near-original form were re-introduced into the mix by Prima.  The relatively recent availability of a considerable amount of material from Louis' long and varied career, has put his life in a new perspective which has caused a re-appreciation by many formerly reluctant New Orleanians.

4:00-5:00 pm Elijah Wald, “Louis Prima and the Timelessness of Jumping, Jiving, and Wailing"
Music historians have a tendency to get hung up on eras and genres, and thus generally describe the shift from swing to rock ‘n’ roll as a revolution or a disaster, depending on their preferences. Louis Prima’s career proves how flawed that description can be, since he was rocking in the 1930s and swinging in the 1960s. Though his success was exceptional, many musicians and entertainers attempted to follow a similar trajectory, and their longevity challenges common assumptions about both jazz and rock. Prima is often compared to Louis Armstrong, but as an entertainer he also shares kinship with artists as disparate as Cab Calloway, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Durante, and Connie Francis.


Dan Morgenstern has been the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University since 1976. A former editor of Down Beat and other jazz periodicals, he is the author of Jazz People (1976) and Living with Jazz (2004), both of which received ASCAPs's Deems Taylor award, and numerous liner notes, eight of which earned him Grammies. He has produced concerts, radio and TV shows, and reissue projects.

Will Friedwald is a New York-based author who has contributed many books on jazz and American popular music, including “Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond” (1990), “Sinatra! The Song Is You: a Singer’s Art” (1995), and “Stardust Melodies: the Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs” (2002).

Marcello Piras is Italy’s foremost authority on jazz and music of the African diaspora. Has taught at Columbia College Chicago and University of Michigan, and is currently teaching Music history at L’Aquila Conservatory. Has published one book on John Coltrane, a CD-Rom on jazz discography, and dozens of essays on virtually all musical areas; has been executive editor of MUSA (Music of the United States of America), USA’s national series of scholarly editions. He currently lives in Mexico, researching the black musical influence on colonial composers.

Jack Stewart, Ph. D., is a historian, musician, city planner, and restoration contractor.  He is currently working on several books on New Orleans' musical history, writing texts for plaques on jazz history sites, conducting oral histories, the owner of Jelly Roll Morton's boyhood home, and a mainstay of the annual New Orleans International Music Colloquium.

Elijah Wald is a musician and writer whose books include "How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music" and "Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues." He has taught blues history at UCLA and won various awards, including a 2002 Grammy.

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