There’s nothing like walking out and watching the people get turned on. Nothing in the world could replace it. — Louis Prima
My mother came from an Italian family (she was one of nine), so growing up, there were certain staples we could count on: pasta on Sundays (with “sauce” not “gravy”); leftovers on Thursdays; pizza on Fridays; feast of St. Anthony in the Bronx; and holiday madness celebrating with the extended family. There also were other staples as far as entertainment was concerned: Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Al Martino, Jerry Vale, Vic Damone, and, of course, Louis Prima. The music, always playing in the background of my childhood, has leaked into my adulthood and I find myself actually listening to Jerry Vale. So it was no surprise that I had somewhat of a vested interest in seeing Louis Prima, Jr. Of course, while I was familiar with Louis Prima, Sr., I had no idea what to expect from his son.
Louis Prima, Jr. and his group, the Witnesses, put on one of the best musical/variety shows I have ever seen and I’ve seen all the greats in person including: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Paul Anka, Elvis Presley, Celine Dion, Madonna, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, the Four Seasons, and countless others.
Let me say it again, Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses put on the BEST musical/variety show that I have ever seen. It was electrifying, engaging, enthralling – a veritable feast for the senses. Two hours of complete non-stop, high-energy, foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ music. I am now a certified groupie and cannot wait to see the show again.
Let’s start with Louis Prima, Jr. He has inherited every bit of showmanship from his famous father and then some. He was funny, charming, and incredibly talented – whether it was singing both old and new songs, playing the trumpet or playing the drums. Is there anything musically he cannot do?
His group, the Witnesses, were made up of the most talented and entertaining (I hate to be redundant, but there is simply no other superlatives that will fit) performers who’ve ever graced a stage. Each member was both a virtuoso act as well as an integral part of a group working in sync together to put on a great show.
Marco Palos on Sax was positively mesmerizing. He was by far the BEST sax player I have ever heard. But more than just his skillful playing was his all-consuming energy that reached across the footlights to make even the most non-musical listener get up and dance. Leslie Spencer’s searing vocals were awesome – she proved that she could hang notes in the air with the best of them. Singing the song titled “Someday” from Louis’s album Blow, blew me away (no pun intended). A.D. Adams was better than the late Buddy Rich on drums (sorry Buddy, but it’s true). His drum duet with Louis Prima, Jr. was MasterCard priceless. His only break came when he did a fabulous impression of Mick Jagger singing. William Pattinson not only proved that he could play a mean bari sax, but displayed his formidable singing chops as well performing the Garth Brooks’ hit, “Friends In Low Places.” Ted Schumacher killed on the trumpet, especially when he played two trumpets at the same time. Let me say that again – he played TWO trumpets at the same time. Phillip Clevinger provided much of the comedy in the show when he wasn’t wailing on the trombone. His invisible fly routine (you’ll just have to see it) was hysterical. Gregg Fox was masterful on the keyboard as well as his sidekicks that rivaled the Rockettes. Ryan McKay on guitar was brilliant, making riffs, chords, and lead guitar accompaniment look like child’s play. Jonathan Frias, the band’s new bass player and euphemistically called the “new” guy, showed he could rock out with the rest of the crew.
Applying labels to the Louis Prima, Jr. show and music is a slippery slope at best. Jazz and swing definitely are appropriate especially with the large horn section. But the music is more than that – strong rock underpinnings with a verve and vibrancy attached. Louis Prima, Jr. is the new King of Rock-Swing! It’s music that is palpable in nature and will reach out and grab a hold of you no matter what age you are or what your previous musical predilections might have been. You will be up on your feet – trust me.
A large part of the show’s success is that the performers have such a good time on stage. It is genuine – the rapport on the boards cannot be faked. It’s almost as if they are having a private, special party on stage and have generously invited us to be part of it. The energy was contagious.
Pillow Talking was fortunate to catch this great show at The Cutting Room in New York City. An intimate venue on 32nd street in Midtown. Both the atmosphere and food were great. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and, for this show, all of them were taken.
Louis Prima, Jr., and the Witnesses encapsulate the true meaning of entertainment. If Louis Prima, Sr.’s principal goal was to make people happy, he would be happy to know that his son has accomplished that in spades. This show MUST be experienced. I never say this, but this time I will make an exception. If there is ONLY one musical/variety show that you see, make it this one!
If I were asked to simplify this review down to one single word, for me it would be an easy feat. To tell anyone who loves stellar entertainment and exceptional singing prowess, unparalleled instrumentals (including a kick-ass brass ensemble), and exuberant, infectious passion with non-stop energy, I can effortlessly deliver a solitary utterance, a monosyllabic verb that is a statement in itself – and it’s GO!! “Go?” you might ask. How can those two letters a review make? – but I’ll tell you it does – it’s an endorsement, a recommendation, and an all-out directive to search and find where Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses are playing and do everything in your power to get there! And no matter your mood when you arrive, you’ll be flying high just moments into the performance and you’ll remain aloft long after it’s over.
This eclectic, tight, fiery band brings with it something for everyone – and that’s no cliché. Prima, Jr. is the namesake of Louis Prima, the Vegas singer who did everything from to jazz to swing to big band, then on to pop-rock as well as playing Disney’s The Jungle Book’s charismatic orangutan King Louie (remember “I Wan’na Be Like You”?). But Prima, Jr. is not just grooving on his famous moniker, he has the gift of music in his genes – and it’s there in multitudes. He knows precisely how to take some of the best of his dad’s work, paying homage but also making it his own with such tunes as “Just a Gigolo” and “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” and also mixes it up with his own work, some originals by the band members, and a sprinkling of cool covers. Not only that, but Prima, Jr. has assembled some of the most incomparable talent I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear and see.
Theater+1 (1)This also was our inaugural visit to The Cutting Room – NYC’s elegant lounge and club owned by actor Chris Noth (Sex and the City, Law & Order, The Good Wife). Out front is a chic, classy bar – but through the double doors and nestled in the back of the house is a stunning and uber-cool performance venue with a spectacular stage, tightly-spaced tables, and awesome, ornate overhanging balconies. Cozy, with low lights and crushed crimson velvet curtains, the room has the vibe of a bygone speakeasy. There is an intimacy and sass to this joint, where the enthusiasm and excitement of the patrons is palpable and downright irresistible. I couldn’t think of a more perfect location to have experienced Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses for the first time – and we nabbed front row seats right in front of the brass! How amazing was that?! (We also ate, and I can tell you the Southwest Chicken Salad was so scrumptious, I all but licked the plate clean!)
With Prima, Jr. as lead vocalist (who also intermittently kills it on trumpet and drums) he shared the mic with powerhouse Leslie Spencer whose gutsy and dynamic persona is incredibly well-matched with Prima, Jr.’s. Many of the other performers in this troupe of 10 took the mic from time to time as well. Now I grew up in a musical household of sorts – my parents were dance and theatre people and when my father left performing, he went on to work for a music publishing company for over four decades. His bountiful knowledge and avid interest in music encouraged my siblings and me to play instruments in school – flute, clarinet, and trumpet. I’ve passed that legacy down to my own kids who’ve played those actual three instruments as well as my youngest who plays alto saxophone. I go weak in the knees for bands who take it beyond the requisite guitar-keyboard-drum set up – give me some explosive brass and I’m in heaven. The Witnesses are a knock-down, drag-out force to be reckoned with, whose sound, vibe, and mere presence will have you picking up your jaw from the floor.
The band’s talents are on-point and completely indescribable, and try as I might to put words to the page, it pales in comparison to the live performance – beginning with the brass, Marco Palos is the sax player extraordinaire whose scorching personality is truly hot, hot, hot (I have to also say that his two-tone wingtips rocked!) Cowboy William Pattinson plays a mean baritone sax and he brought a little country to the night when he belted out Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.” Phillip Clevinger is likely the most playful of the group and kills it on the trombone as well as when he tossed in some amusing falsettos and killer dance moves. And Ted Schumacher did things to the trumpet I’ve never seen, including playing two-fisted, either alternately one to the other, or both at the same time!
A.D. Adams is both a phenomenal drummer and vocalist, and it was especially engaging when changed it up and switched positions with Prima, Jr., fronting the group for The Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Ryan McKay is blistering on guitar – during some of his solos, I actually think I was holding my breath! Epic keyboardist Gregg Fox is at the top of his game, and I only can imagine how he’s taken down many other houses having played for legends the likes of Billy Idol, Jefferson Starship, Alice Cooper, and BB King. Finally, newcomer Jonathan Frias nails it on bass and also endured a bit of affectionate ribbing for being a little green with the Witnesses.
Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses was like riding the coolest amusement park ride and one everyone should experience at least once. For my husband/co-reviewer Wayne and me, that’s not going to be the case – we’ve become shameless groupies already and plan to catch them again and again. It’s impossible not to have fun with these guys (and girl) who themselves perform like they’re having the time of their lives. Like I said at the outset – GO! You’ll be glad so very glad you did!