Cab Calloway dancing with endearing high skill in front of a white piano & his entire fabulous orchestra begins singing the wacky lyrics of this jump-jazz thriller diller:
"Jump with the jamboree/ Come on Jack & jump with me/ Jump with the Jamboree/ You get your kicks & get them all for free/ Foo little ballyhoo you?/ Foo little ballyhoo me..."
We're watching the three-minute soundie Foo a Little Ballyhoo (1945), a glad to be doing so. All of a sudden, out strolls Rusty Stanford to dance beside Cab, lending extreme glamor as Cab continues singing:
"Low brows swinging with the high brow/ High brows swinging with the low brows," then he & Rusty dance together with such amazing mutual skill & sex appeal.
I never cease to be amazed by the depth of Cab's talents, as here he is dancing with a truly fine dancing gal in high stage-show style, & he's just as superfine at dancing as he is at singing.
He & Rusty could've been the black Astair & Rogers if Cab's greater commitment hadn't needed to remain singing. He ends the performance with his own brand of scat jazz & a high note.
This time, in Walkin' with My Honey (1945), Cab's guest is Dotty Saulter, who was a dance performer at the Cotton Club with her husband Cholly Atkins, & was with Dizzy Gillespie's bad in the mid-1950s which toured the Balkans, Near East & India, when Dizzy's integrated band served officially as ambassadorial representatives of American culture.
This soundie was shot on the same set as his number with Rusty described above. Cab's bobbing his head & hair to the side as he conducts the orchestra, conveying all his charisma even with his back to the camera.
Out strolls Dotty to stand nearly in front of Cab to sing the lead vocal: "I'll be strolling with my honey down honeymoon lane/ Soon, soon, soon. Make the moon, moon, moon/ We won't care if it's November or the middle of June/ I'll be sweeter to my sweetie than ever before, morning night or noon/ For I'll be walking with my honey down honeymoon lane, soon, soon, soon."
Completing the lyrics, she strolls off stage & cab dances & conducts through the instrumental, plus we get a sax solo. Then Dotty walks back into the picture & she & Cab join arms like a bride & groom, & she finishes the number with Cab doing background scat in a croony sort of manner.
Cab & his orchestra again back up Dotty Saulter for I Was Here When You Left Me (1945). The lyrics include:
"I was here when you left me, I'll be here when you get back/ With a heart full of kisses & my love in each kiss/ I was sad when you left me I'll be glad when you get back/ I've been savin' my lovin' just for something like this..."
It's a nice little swing tune & it's totally Dotty's song, apart from a nice little sax solo from the orchestra.
Cab is lively as always conducting & could easily have just stolen the attention, but the combination of Dotty's own beauty, personality, & the fact that it's not a "callowayesque" song, keeps it her show.
We the Cats Shall Hep Ya (1945) has the same set & orchestra seating arrangement as in two of the soundies above (Foo a Little Ballyhoo & Walkin' with My Honey), they were probably all filmed in one day though the release dates show them staggered from August to December 1945.
"We the Cats Shall Hep Ya" is also known by the shortened title "We the Cats" or as "Righteous Riff." It is a great number distinct from the version that can be seen in Cab's feature film Hi De Ho (1947). It was written by Joe Jackson & runs in part:
And the time is right/ And tonight's the night/ All reet, all right, come on old man come on/ We the cats shall hep ya, so reep this righteous riff/ Here's the beat to hep ya, so reap this righteous riff."
This is jump-jazz at its finest, & one of my favorite of Cab's tunes. We get some of his cool dancing, his miraculous vocal, & a sax solo for spice. You can't ask more of a soundie.
The above Cab Calloway soundies plus Blow Top Blues (1945) & a few more are included in the compilation Harlem Roots Volume I: Big Bands (1988).
Others included in the compilation are select soundies by Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra, including Hello Bill (1946) on which Lucky handles the vocal himself; two by Count Basie, Take Me Back Baby and Air Mail Special (both 1941); & a nice selection of Duke Ellington soundies including Hot Chocolate ("Cottontail") (1941) featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.
The Snader telescription live recording of Cab's old standard St. James Infirmary Blues (1950) is a unique arrangement with his scaled-back quartet, with a slower pacing than earlier recordings.
The beginning has a very unusual horn technique employed by Jonah Jones, short stucatto blasts almost in lieu of a drum beat.
The minimalism of the arrangment focuses everything on Cab's voice. He's in top graceful form. Even just touching his chest with his fingertips is poetic in pose.
He's not his usual dapper self. In order to fit the downtrodden story the lyrics address, he's dressed down like a man on hard times. It was relatively rare that he "dress down" in this manner, though he also did it in Blow Top Blues.
I'm not a fan of any of the Jackson's, but had to track down Janet Jackson's music video Alright (1990) because of its guest-star, Cab Calloway.
Guests besides Cab include dancers Cyd Charisse & the Nicholas Brothers, but if you blink, you'll miss them.
It's kind of cool that Janet's dressed up like a zoot suit hepcat boy. She dances aggressively to match.
But the dance troupe put together for Alright ain't no match Whitey's Lindy Hoppers from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, who were imitated pretty darned well in a 1980 episode of Uptown: A Tribute to the Apollo Theater when the Apollo dancers paid a much more authentic homage to Cab, who in his early seventies held his own with those young swell dancers choreographed by Lester Wilson.
Others in the special included Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Lou Rawls, & Sarah Vaughan. We can only hope this is preserved somewhere & will someday be restored to DVD.
But for this lesser video Alright, the song is commercial pablum so heavily studio-mixed that a barking dog could've sounded as good. There's nothing to do with the pre-war era the film otherwise attempts to evoke, & as an homage to Cab it's too self-involved to have anything at all to do with him.
Musically it's of its moment & kind of a shrug. Heavy D puts in solid rap appearance halfway through the film. He's better than Janet.
Cab appears momentarily at two points in the film, wearing a school-bus-yellow zoot suit that there's no way he chose for himsef. He does nothing of interest; we barely even get a clear look at him until the tail-end & then for a grand total of five seconds.
So Janet used a legendary name to trick a few extra folks into not watching her, with almost nothing else that was advertised to be seen. Visually it's better than ninety percent of the videos of its year. But music already dated & the broken promise of special guests we barely glimpse, how shitty is that.
A "Pathetone Weekly" cinemagazine short-subject "filmed at the 'rhythm' dance & band championship display" in London is entitled The Gathering of the Bands (1934). It's worth a gander if you're a Calloway film completist, but his momentary appearance is even more disappointing than his passing through a Janet Jackson video.
It begins with Bruno Montovani & His String Orchestra, apparently very popular in pre-war England, as a leading radio personality more than for actually being interesting. The orchestra is shown cutting a wax record while performing before an audience & crowded dance floor. No attempt is made to make it interesting.
A text card appears that reads "The King of the 'Scat' Singers -- Cab Calloway dropped in." But we don't get to see Cab express any part of his skill. Instead, he's at a microphone informing the audience that the winner of the All England Rhythm Dance Contest is Stan Harvard. As if we care.
Then another text card notes another guest, Roy Fox with his band from the Cafe de Paris. This band provides the only good moments of the three-minute cinemagazine. They sing a jaunty little novelty number that begins: "Did you ever see/ Somebody full of TNT/ And yet as sweet as she can be/ That is the girl named Dixie Lee-dee-dee-leh-li-doh."
Cab made three appearances on Sesame Street, two in 1979 & one in 1980, his bits with the puppets filmed late in 1978.
In one of these shows, he sings "The Hi De Ho Miracle Man," clad in his recurring white tuxedo.
He was in fair to good voice -- great for a man in his 70s -- & still relatively graceful in movement, even though well beyond his best years.
Even with muppets to do the responses in the classic "call & response" number, the intentional kitschiness of the moment does not hamper the fun of the performance. It's also just amusing that the muppets call him "Cabby."
This moment was included in the three-disc compilation of guest musicians on Sesame Street, Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music by Sesame Street Guests (2003).
Alas, the compilation, big as it is, does not include Cab in the "Jump Jive" skit for the Letter J, incoporating Cab's song "Jumpin' Jive" performed with the purple Two-Headed Monster. Cab's remaining appearance was the "I Wanna Count" bit with the vampire muppet The Count, first seen in 1980 & recycled into a 1984 episode.
The Ed Sullivan Show; aka, Talk of the Town featured Cab Calloway ten times during its long run. His first appearance was in the show's first season, on August 1, 1948. His last appearance was on March 19, 1967, in an episode that also featured folk-rocker Johnny Rivers, the folky pop rockers The Lovin' Spoonful led by John Sebastian.
During that final appearance, Cab performed with his daughter Chris, who was twenty-one, & this was her public debut. Cab strove to kickstart Chris's singing career, bringing her with him to the Mike Douglas Show on January 1, 1968, to promote Hello Dolly in which they were both appearing on Broadway; & to The David Frost Show on December 23, 1969.
Although Chris never became a big star in her own right, she did briefly sing with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, travelled some while with her dad's last band, & in the last few years has performed in nostalgia homages to her father or to Billie Holiday or Lena Horne.
In the 1967 episode of Ed Sullivan, Cab sings different lyrics to "Minnie the Moocher" about Chris Calloway by way of introduction, then he & she perform a lovely loving duet of "Side by Side." Cab's in good form & his daughter ain't bad, though not her father's equal, as who is. Chris also sings "I'm Not at All in Love."
He'd previously (January 22, 1956) appeared with another daughter, Layla, to sweetly sing "Little Girl" to the child. They shared that evening's bill with an aged Helen Kane (Roaring Twenties singer upon whom Betty Boop was based), & Mitch Miller's troupe doing their then-current Hit Parade number "Yellow Rose of Texas."
On April 5, 1953, he sang a selection from Porgy & Bess, as he was that year in the musical. On December 26, 1954 episode, he sang "Birth of the Blues" & "Let My People Go." June 20, 1965 he appeared on the same biill as the Dave Clark Five, & children's comedian Soupy Sales.
Some of these appearances do not survive or remain deep in the vault. But others are in circulation as clips or in compilation sets of highlights from Ed's Sunday evening program. Most widely circulated is his March 1, 1964 appearance on one of the episodes featuring The Beatles, in a compilation lengthily titled The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles (2003). On the March first show, Cab sang "St. James Infirmary" & "Old Man River."
No one too young to remember Ed's show can understand how significant it was for American entertainment. Just about everyone would be home Sunday night watching it, & rival stations just gave up on being seen for that hour. The next day at water coolers & in school lunch hallways, it was invariably discussed.
It provided a kind of shared cultural consciousness, with something for every generation. The show's dominant popularity leapt even higher for the Beatles episodes which insured Cab the biggest single audience of his career -- over seventy million viewers.
It's too bad Cab wasn't in top form. He's alone rather than with an orchestra or even his quintet. He comes off as a fading nostalgia act. Really he gave some great performances in this era & had not faded this badly from greatness, but you can't tell it from that night's performance.
In the trademark white tux (a little more ill-fitting than one expects of the dapper Cab), he steps nicely but doesn't really dance as he gives a so-so rendition of "St. James Infimary Blues." Personally I think the terrible instrumentation sabotaged him, as it in no way matched his inherent liveliness.
It's also a slower tempo than was usual. He seems to be straining to make the song fit the poky arrangement & absolutely horrible lead trumpet's failing attempt to be cool.
I love Cab so much I want to believe he would have the versatility to adapt to Ed's notoriously hasty production values. Ed liked to get the acts on stage & off as quickly as possible, provided little time for acts to prepare or practice, & had many behind-the-scenes methods of sabotaging his guests. But Cab had been doing "St James Infirmary" for so long, it's hard to make too many excuses for him beyond "having an off night."
And he truly blew it on "Old Man River," which simply seems a poor choice of song for him. He attempts to transform it into a jivin' jump-jazz number, but he's lost the melodic line, goofed up the arrangement, & even lost his physical rhythm tossing his arms around a mite awkwardly instead of his usual grace.
It's perhaps the worst version of "Old Man River" I ever heard, & I really thought no one could dismantel the song worse than Screaming Jay Hawkins, who at least did it on purpose. So yeah, too bad Cab's off-night had to occur in front of the biggest audience of his career. If he'd been in top form, even the screaming Beatles fans would've been looking for his records the next day.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl