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Interview: Louis Prima Jr, The Las Vegas JrKing of Swing

The Las Vegas and New Orleans JrKing of Swing will make a duet with his late-dad for iconic and music standard song 'Pennies from Heaven' as his next single out later this year.
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Louis Prima Jr is the youngest child of the Las Vegas and New Orleans musician and entertainer, sicilian parented Louis Prima. The father was a cultural and musical icon, he made prominent use of Italian music and language in his songs, blending elements of his Italian and Sicilian identity with jazz and swing music. He was the King of Swing as he is also known for providing the voice for the orangutan King Louie in the 1967 Disney film The Jungle Book. Jr started to learn the drums at 5 years old, after he learned piano and in school he wanted to play trumpet. He found a band that was renamed Problem Child, what became popular in the local Vegas scene and at several venues in Hollywood. In 1995, Problem Child disbanded, and Prima shifted his musical focus to the music and style of his father. From 2012 he plays with the band Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses in theatres, Casinos and headline festivals.

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Your next single will be a duet arrangement of Pennies from Heaven, a song connected to your father. What changes can we expect?
We've changed the intro and ending using elements of some of my father's other hits. Outside of that, we play it pretty close to the original in order to marry up with my Father's tracks... Oh, and we also get to hear Sam Butera on sax, and by the end of the song, a bit of both bands wailing together. It is really awesome the way it came together.

What trends do you feel in music right now, what kind of sound are you striving for?
Music is a bit lost to me. I still lean on rock for my personal listening, but I think even that has gone stale. Shows are all about lights, special effects and dancers. What happened to the music? Look, I am encouraged that people like John Batiste are getting recognition, I'm excited when I hear acts like Blackberry Smoke hit the airwaves. I wish acts like Vintage Trouble would stick to their original sound, and I hope that Nikka Costa continues to make brilliant music. I listen to it all, but it has to move me.

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Is there someone or something that usually inspires you?
My children. Their resilience and drive. It helps keep me young. I cold gush about them nonstop, but they truly are good souls, driven achievers, and positive motivators.

I saw in one of your FB videos that you listed the performances of 2-3 months by date and city exactly, are you actively involved in the organization of the shows?
I am heavily involved in the day to day everything in this band. As much as I would love to stay out of the business end of it, and as much as I trust the people that work hard to keep me rollin'; I do have my fingers in every step of keeping us on stage.

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How did this relatively large band, Louis Prima Jr and the Witnesses come together?
When I first started this endeavor, I had a manager who found me some of the top players in the business. But, I wanted not just brilliant musicians and also I wanted them to be able to entertain as well. I was an arduous task for the first several years to find guys along the way that matched my love of performing. Somewhere in 2010 I had it, and it's been a nonstop freight train ever since. We've changed a few players along the way, but there are outstanding musician/performers out there, you just have to know where to look.

Is it difficult to keep such a large team together?
It's like hearing rattlesnakes! HA. Really though, everyone in this band... past and present really enjoy what we do and enjoy each other's company. We have a great time on the road and a better time on stage. And I think a good part of that is due to a love of being on stage and getting to play for such amazing crowds.

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How many songs do you usually prepare for a performance?
I don't' really know! I don't like set lists. The band knows what we are going to start with, and end with. Everything in between is up to our relationship with the crowd. It moves pretty fast though, there is not a lot of talking. A 90 minute show can easily turn into two plus hours though.

On what basis do you choose your stage clothes, does someone help you or do you dress yourself?
I like loud and flashy! I tell the band not to look like waiters, and I find clothing at a multitude of places. I've toiled with the idea of going more towards street clothes, but I think the fact that we do what we do in dress attire adds to the fun. I've had some Hollywood designers outfitting me in the past, but I found that finding the one of a kind or odd suit along the way is a lot more fun. I like to wear the unusual.

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Do you have a favorite piece of clothing, color or style in addition to the defining SWING clothing habits?
I don't know if I have a favorite. My newest jacket will always be the best until I find another one. I do like them to be a bit heavy on the shoulder pads and prefer a one button smoking jacket look. Although a great three or four button longer cut looks good on me (oops, ego). I like shiny, and busy designs. I don't think I've ever worn a Zoot Suit or swing style.

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What is your favorite audience? How do they behave?
I love the Italian crowds on the East Coast of the US. I get to lean on the Italian songs and they completely get into it singing along and such. We are fortunate to have a very large demographic and I love the younger festival crowds. I think they are there FOR MUSIC and just want to have fun. I like when they are up against the stage jumping and dancing with us.

Louis Prima, Jr. and The Witnesses perform at the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival.

There are 2 ladies among you in the band, how can they handle the many trips?
They are stronger than any of us combined!! 8 hours in a tour bus is not easy. But I think the general nature of our entire band lends more to a family experience and everyone enjoys the company of everyone else. But don't get me wrong, Kate and Jenny give as good as they get!!! We have a lot of fun and we really care about one another. I'm sure at the and of a couple weeks we are all tired and want to go home, but when we get together, its a lot of catching up on families, endeavors, their other projects etc. So, every road trip is like a mini high school reunion.

Who is your favorite female artist that you have ever played with?
If I don't say Kate and Jenn, I'm in trouble!! I've been fortunate to have performed with some amazing talent throughout my career. I think by far, Dee Dee Bridgwater was the greatest. Number one, she is an INCREDIBLE vocalist, but she is kind, humble and a whole lot of fun.

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And who is the female artist you would like to perform with?
I love Nikka Costa. I've seen and met her a few times. I love her voice and it's real music played by Real Musicians. I would love to collaborate with here on something. And yes it would include Kate. I think the contrasting and unique styles would blend together to give a distinct original sound.

What songs are you listening to these days?
Well, my favorite for a few years now is Deftones... didn't see that coming did you! Also, Lachy Doley out of Australia; the things he does with a keyboard... and I just added The Pretenders back to my regular playlist. Yeah, I am all over the place.

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