Charm is the most elusive of artistic qualities, but few musicians displayed it as abundantly as Slim Gaillard. A jazz vocalist and guitarist who was adept on several instruments (sometimes overdubbing himself into a one-man band while Stevie Wonder was still a toddler and Prince a zygote), Gaillard was a hipster who not only spoke bebop jive but made up his own variant on it, which he dubbed "vout." It involved using phrases like "vout" and "o-rooney" before, after, or in place of just about every other word, and once led the musician to ask Mickey Rooney what his last name was.

Gaillard began recording in the late '30s, first with bassist Slam Stewart as Slim and Slam, then billed solo. He made novelty records, but rather than the frenetic goofiness of Spike Jones or the instrumental zigzagging of Raymond Scott, Gaillard cultivated a sly, sidelong tone, cutting a figure so hip even titans like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were happy to play sidemen—see "Slim's Jam" from 1946.

A year later, Gaillard signed to Verve, and the 20 cuts on 1994's Laughing in Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years make an indelible intro to the man's warmth, his savoir faire, his stronger-than-you-realize tunes, and his unabashed silliness. Not even Lay's long-standing slogan, "Bet you can't eat just one," can top Slim's vow, from 1952's "Potato Chips": "Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch/All I want is potato chips."

The man loved food—see also "Chicken Rhythm" and "Eatin' with the Boogie" (the latter sadly not on Laughing in Rhythm). He liked a drink, too—see 1947's "The Bartender's Just Like a Mother" ("And I'm his favorite child"). But what he loved more than anything was cutting up. "Laughing in Rhythm" does just what its title says, with a chorus that goes "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" He regularly spouted foreign-sounding scat-sung nonsense, as on the mambo takeoffs "Yo Yo Yo" (where "Clorox" makes its way into a line) and "Babalu (Orooney)."

But best—and therefore, because this is Slim Gaillard we're talking about, most charming—of all is "Serenade to a Poodle" (1948). Every record geek has a secret weapon—a relatively unknown sure shot they spring on the unsuspecting. This is mine. It's a call-and-response number with, um, a poodle, as played by a human—unless Gaillard somehow trained a real pooch to bark "All riiight." I'm betting he didn't. But I wouldn't put it past him.

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