Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway and his orchestra.
Cab Calloway was an jazz singer and band leader who came to fame in the 1930′s. His was one of the busiest jazz acts of the time. He appeared on dozens of shows, acted in many movies and played with many other big names of the day like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Bing Crosby to name a few. I was first exposed to Cab’s music because of his involvement in the 1980 film “The Blue Brothers”, a fantastic piece of cinematography. His performance of “Minnie the Moocher” is truly one of the highlights of the film and I’d strongly recommend Blue Brothers to anyone that hasn’t seen it already.

Cab Calloway was born in Rochester, New York on Christmas day in 1907. Unlike many of the other artists you read about he was not born to a poor family. His father was a lawyer and his mother was a teacher. In addition to teaching his mother also enjoyed playing the organ at their church. This church involvement is where Cab was first exposed to music by participating in the choir. His mother recognized his musical gift early on and he was signed up for voice lessons which expanded to overall music lessons. Through this growing period Cab was discouraged from pursuing any type of jazz performance by his parents and teachers. Things came to a head when Cab graduated high school and went to stay with his sister who was a band leader/jazz singer in Chicago. At the time jazz was thriving in Chicago and within it’s city limits there were jazz clubs that become testing grounds for new jazz talent to prove themselves. It was in this environment, under this guidance of his sister Blanche that Cab Calloway came to his own.

As you’d expect of someone of this stature Cab has had his share of interesting events. One such incident is when Cab kicked Dizzy Gillespie out of his band after accusing Dizzy of hitting him with spitballs while he performed. Apparently this enraged Dizzy adamantly denied committing the dastardly deed. Not one to let sleeping dogs lie Dizzy in turn stabbed Calloway in the leg. Exciting times indeed. Cab also played a judge in a few WWF events in the 1980s, how random is that? All funny business aside Cab Calloway’s music is quite nice. He had a playful style that was always lighthearted and entertaining. He raised the bar high for other band leaders that followed and kept performing right up until he died of a stroke in 1994. He lived for the music and showed. Like most of these older acts he doesn’t really have a discography that can be easily collected. Instead all we have to go on are various performance and hit oriented collections. So if you interested in early big band style jazz with flare check out some of Calloway’s recordings.

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