Slim Gaillard’s language Vout

Today Jazz is something the posh folk listens to just to show that they are some sort of cool. But that is not what jazz is about. Jazz is a pure expression of will in the form of sound. Jazz musician plays a different kind of music - the one not bound by the chains of notation, rhythm or harmony. It's a pure force of spirit. Something you likely won't get from your Chris Botty record.

Jazz was biggest, hottest thing in the 1950s. Rising from the clubs and through the streets - numerous performers showed their skills in all possible manners. Solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet - and every time they were playing like it was their last stand. They were playing the life out. It was the time when jazzmen were the coolest homo sapiens walking on earth. They were channeling the divine and pouring inspiring vibrations through the space into the place occasionally known as mind.

Blah Blah Blah, anyway.

One of the most significant performers of that time was Slim Gaillard. He was the most electrifying man in the mix during 1940s-50s. In musical terms Slim was firmly in the bebop jazz with frenzied fast tempos, instrumental gutta-percha combined with relentless improvisations. His supernatural charisma was irresistible and his energetic performances are stuff of legends.

To get a sense how his performances looked like - here's a bit from Jack Kerouac seminal On the Road:

 "... one night we suddenly went mad together again; we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who's always saying 'Right-orooni' and 'How 'bout a little bourbon-arooni.' In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums. When he gets warmed up he takes off his undershirt and really goes. He does and says anything that comes into his head. He'll sing 'Cement Mixer, Put-ti Put-ti' and suddenly slow down the beat and brood over his bongos with fingertips barely tapping the skin as everybody leans forward breathlessly to hear; you think he'll do this for a minute or so, but he goes right on, for as long as an hour, making an imperceptible little noise with the tips of his fingernails, smaller and smaller all the time till you can't hear it any more and sounds of traffic come in the open door. Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, 'Great-orooni ... fine-ovauti ... hello-orooni ... bourbon-orooni ... all-orooni ... how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni ... orooni ... vauti ... oroonirooni ..." He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can't hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience.

Dean stands in the back, saying, 'God! Yes!'-and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. 'Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.' Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two C's, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing 'C-Jam Blues' and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages. Finally the set is over; each set takes two hours. Slim Gaillard goes and stands against a post, looking sadly over everybody's head as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into his hand. 'Bourbon-orooni-thank-you-ovauti ...' Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is. Dean once had a dream that he was having a baby and his belly was all bloated up blue as he lay on the grass of a California hospital. Under a tree, with a group of colored men, sat Slim Gaillard. Dean turned despairing eyes of a mother to him. Slim said, 'There you go-orooni.' Now Dean approached him, he approached his God; he thought Slim was God; he shuffled and bowed in front of him and asked him to join us. 'Right-orooni,' says Slim; he'll join anybody but won't guarantee to be there with you in spirit. Dean got a table, bought drinks, and sat stiffly in front of Slim. Slim dreamed over his head. Every time Slim said, 'Orooni,' Dean said 'Yes!' I sat there with these two madmen. Nothing happened. To Slim Gaillard the whole world was just one big orooni."


One of his defining features was rather unique manner of singing lyrics. Slim Gaillard loved to mix all the things he could get his grasp on into something completely different. His songs often utilized nonsensical novelty children songs, Jive slang and combined variety of slangs and sometimes even languages thus reflecting multi-cultural all-inclusive nature of jazz. As time went by he developed his own language of sorts. He called it Vout. The title originates from a jazz slang word "voot" which means "money".  

Basically Vout was a natural continuation, sort of solidifying of his scat style in a form of lingual improvisation based around certain combination of sounds. The purpose of Vout was to transcribe lyrics into a free-form melody, that could be reinterpreted and expanded on the fly by the inclusion or exclusion of various details. But it wasn't only that - it was also clear manifestation of Slim's artistic persona. His manic, electric delivery was integral part of Vout.  

Aesthetically, it is not that far away from was were doing the Futurists and later Dadaists in the 1910s-20s. They wanted to make language exciting and new. They did it by stripping it naked - setting language free from long-standing conventions and petrified imagery and making it fun to play again in the process. They deconstructed language into something of their own. Something that broke new grounds.  

In practical terms, Vout was designed to be fully explore performers capability of vocalizing. Thus it was as direct and simple as possible. For means of rhythm, some words ended with o-roony, o-reen-nee, or vout - as in blink-o-roony (sleepy), burn-o-vooty (kitchen), mug-o-vooty (face). Other, more complex words can be combined into a collage of random words in a beautiful melody, such as capa (swallow) and hurma (year).

In 1946 he published its dictionary - aptly titled Slim Gaillard's Vout-o-Reenee Dictionary. Most of the words included in the dictionary has somewhat obscure origins. Most of them are borrowed from the Jive slang, such as "benny" which means "coat". Some words are from Yiddish, Arabic. The mix is so dense - it is nearly impossible to understand what Slim is singing about without a dictionary. Basically, it is a one-man argot.

But you can almost always get a distant sense what he's talking about through the sound of words and the context they're used in.

Take a look at the rare scan of Slim Gaillard's Vout-o-Reenee Dictionary: