Cab Calloway: All The Hits And More 1930-56

Double CD salute to the ebullient king of hep contains some fine jazz from his swing-era bandleading heydays

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Cab’s exuberantly self-confident, hustling and astute personality drove him on an upwards spiral through the 1920s clubland world of Baltimore and Chicago as an extrovert singer, drummer and MC. By 1930 he was leading the orchestra which stood in for Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, and it was a smash hit. Now resplendent in a white zoot suit, Cab sang with uninhibited verve, dancing around on stage, hair flying, baton twirling and coat tails streaming.

Numerous broadcasts, some national, and first recordings for Brunswick (heard here on the opening of this 48-track, two-CD set) made him famous. At 23 he was earning a staggering $50,000 a year. Behind this wild, entertaining facade of live performance lay an awareness that audiences, especially now, in the troubled 30s, were excited and amused by over-the-top high spirits and jive jargon – especially if audience participation was invited.

Seeking a main theme tune, he co-wrote Minnie The Moocher (based loosely on St James Infirmary) which was to become his lifetime best-known smash hit. (He was still performing it 50 years later in the 1980 hit film, The Blues Brothers). The arrangement combined declamatory vocal narrative, histrionic cries and nimble scat with jive talk and call-and-echo vocal mantras with orchestra and audience. Performed over a sloggingly propulsive beat in a minor key, it worked astonishingly well, providing a model for several Minnie-related follow-on recordings over the years, and included on this CD. Perpetuating his self-created myth, the ever enterprising Calloway published in 1938 his Hepster Dictionary: The Language Of Jive. “Hi-De-Ho” became a national catch-phrase.

In contrast to his wild stage persona, Cab was strict in his discipline and a stickler for high professional standards. The tracks presented here from his bandleading heyday are well arranged and performed, and swing vigorously with quality solo input from some star names. They were almost all chart hits, notably (besides Minnie) St.James Infirmary, Kicking The Gong Around, Angels With Dirty Faces and The Jumpin’ Jive. Hot Toddy, Jitterbug and Congo (which has Ben Webster and Shad Collins on board) are first-class, swinging, big band jazz performances.

Cab sings on most tracks. His often histrionic delivery, in which his light, supple tenor voice blends jive talk, lively scat and staged vocal-team responses, was not perhaps to everyone’s taste, and probably remains so. Ballads, particularly, tended to wilt under Cab’s onslaught. But this didn’t seem to affect the popularity of the crown prince of stage showmanship, even after disbanding in 1948.

His long career included numerous acting appearances on stage – Broadway productions of Porgy And Bess, playing Sporting Life, and Hello Dolly opposite Pearl Bailey – and many major films. When he died in 1994 aged 87, he had become a major figure in the annals of American showbiz. There’s some fine jazz to enjoy here from his swing-era bandleading heydays, a very enjoyable tribute to a remarkable, truly one-off artist and versatile entertainer.

Discography
CD1: (1) St. Louis Blues; Minnie The Moocher; Nobody’s Sweetheart; St. James Infirmary; Six Or Seven Times; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; Kickin’ The Gong Around; Trickeration; You Rascal You; There’s A Cabin In The Sky; Strictly Cullud Affair; Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day; Reefer Man; (2) Hot Toddy; (1) I’ve Got The World On A String; I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues; Jitterbug; (2) Moonglow; (1) Chinese Rhythm; Keep That Hi-De-Hi In Your Soul; You’re The Cure For What’s Ails Me; Copper Coloured Gal; Wake Up And Live (70.35)
CD2: (3) Congo; (4) Peckin’; She’s Tall, She’s Tan, She’s Terrific; Mama, I Wanna Make Rhythm; Moon At Sea; Every Day’s A Holiday; Mr Paganini, Swing For Minnie; (3) At The Clam-Bake Carnival; (5) Angels With Dirty Faces; (4) F.D.R. Jones; The Ghost Of Smokey Joe; (Hep-Hep) The Jumpin’ Jive; Fifteen Minute Intermission; Come On With The “Come On”; (3) Bye Bye Blues; (4) Geechy Joe; (3) Take The “A” Train; (4) I See A Million People (But All I Can See Is You); Blues In The Night; The Moment I Laid Eyes On You; Ogeechee River Lullaby; Let’s Take The Long Way Home; The Honeydripper; The Calloway Boogie; (6) Little Child (72.19)
Full discography details, including personnels, are given in an informative 24 page booklet with notes by Paul Watts.
(1) Cab Calloway (v, dir) and his Orchestra. NY, various dates and personnels, July 1930-March 1937 (CD1). (2) Calloway (dir) and his Orch. as (1). (3) Calloway (dir) and his Orch. NY, Chicago, Hollywood, various dates and personnels. March 1937-1956. (CD2). (4) Calloway (v, dir) and his Orch. as (3). (5) Calloway (dir) and his Orch. June Richmond (v). NY, November 1938. (6) Calloway (v, dir) and his Orch. with eight-year-old daughter Lael (v). 1956. Personnels include Reuben Reeves, Benny Payne, Doc Cheatham, Claude Jones, Ben Webster, Milt Hinton, Danny Barker, Chu Berry, Cozy Cole, Dizzy Gillespie,Tyree Glenn, Jonah Jones, Quentin Jackson, Hilton Jefferson and Ike Quebec.
Acrobat ADDCD3422