Slim Gaillard: Babalu (orooney)


Babalu (orooney)


Slim Gaillard (vocals, guitar)


Laughing In Rhythm (Verve 314 521 651)

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Slim Gaillard (vocals, guitar),

Maceo Williams (piano), Clyde Lombardi (bass), Charlie Smith (drums)


Composed by Margarita Lecuona and Theo Hansen


Recorded: New York, May 25, 1951


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Now we take a turn towards the surreal, guided by the unique multi-instrumentalist Slim Gaillard. Even with prior knowledge of Gaillard’s mastery of double-talk and his invented language, “Vout”, little can prepare the listener for this bizarre and very funny transformation of the Cuban classic “Babalu.” Although the song was forever associated with Desi Arnaz, Gaillard’s version starts in imitation of the Xavier Cugat recording. However, Gaillard’s imagination soon takes over and he starts inserting “orooney” and other vout phrases in with the Spanish lyrics. By the time he quotes “Jingle Bells” (!), we are in a completely different universe where all kinds of languages—real and invented—come at us from all angles.

In the 1998 notes for the Smithsonian collection,The Jazz Singers, Robert G. O’Malley wrote that Gaillard had transformed the moments of parody in the recordings of Fats Waller and Al Hibbler into an aesthetic of parody. While such an analysis seems rather high-brow, there is little doubt that Gaillard’s comedic concepts were unparalleled in jazz—or any other music, for that matter. At any rate, such theories are much less damaging than those offered during his career, including the idea that Gaillard’s vout promoted drug use. That accusation caused Gaillard to lose a lot of work and led to long nomadic periods in his life.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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  • 1 Alan Kurtz // Oct 08, 2009 at 02:24 AM
    "Damaging theories," asserts Thomas Cunniffe, plagued Slim Gaillard's career, "including the idea that vout promoted drug use." According to Robert G. O'Malley's 1998 Smithsonian notes cited by Tom, Gaillard's recording "Slim's Jam" (1945) "turned the press, even the jazz press, against Gaillard. Down Beat's Barry Ulanov, for example, charged that … Slim's private lingo was dangerously subversive in its flaunting of the use of drugs. Under the weight of these charges, Slim found that work was suddenly much harder to find." However, O'Malley does not specify the source of Ulanov's smear, nor does he quote Ulanov directly; the inflammatory phrase "dangerously subversive in its flaunting of the use of drugs" is entirely O'Malley's own.

    As Columbia University's obit ( relates, Barry Ulanov was editor of Metronome from 1943-1955 and thereafter a Down Beat columnist for three years. In those days, Metronome and Down Beat were staunch rivals; the former's editor almost certainly would not have written for the latter during the term of his editorship. Thus, since Ulanov's Down Beat stint came a full ten years after the release of "Slim's Jam," nothing he wrote there during the mid-'50s could possibly account for Galliard's unemployment during the late '40s. Moreover, as if anachronism alone would not dispel O'Malley's baseless claim, simply listening to "Slim's Jam" slams the door shut, Richard. During the course of this laid-back, 3-minute, 2-beat spoof, Gaillard calls for a "double order of reetie vooties with a little hot sauce on it, a big bowl of avocado-seed soup, and an orange soda." THIS is dangerously subversive flaunting of drug usage?

    I don't minimize the inimical role of drugs in jazz. I myself wrote a review criticizing a 1946 song by Harry the Hipster Gibson, on which Slim Gaillard appeared as a sideman, about spiking a children's drink with amphetamine.

    But, please, let's be fair. Slim Gaillard was not Harry the Hipster Gibson. At this late date, resurrecting spurious allegations against Mr. Gaillard does a double order of disservice to Slim's memory and to his art, both of which deserve respect. All rooty?