Legacy lives on through grandson

 Keeping a treasured piece of sheet music locked away from light and life might preserve a fragile piece of paper.   

But it doesnít keep the music alive. 

C. Calloway Brooks knows this.

Four years after his grandfather, Cab Calloway died in 1994,  Brooks formed the Cab Calloway Orchestra and continues to direct the band.

The Cab Calloway Orchestra will perform Sunday at Curtis Peterson Auditorium in Lecanto as part of the Central Florida Community College Foundationís Performing Arts Series.

Brooks said his goal with the 14-piece big band it to perpetuate what he believes is one of the most important cultural phenomena in the last century - the development of swing music.

"In that period, America discovered its own cultural voice," Brooks said.  He said swing encompasses Hispanic, European, African American and Native American cultures.   He noted that Calloway's ethnicity was primarily African American and Iroquois.  Brooks said the Native American influence in swing can be heard in the way Calloway's drummers such as Cozy Cole approached the "four on the floor" Kansas City swing rhythm - using accents on the beats rather than playing the rhythm straight.That approach closely resembles Native American rhythms, Brooks explained.

If swing gave America its own voice, Calloway codified the linguistic equivalent when he penned "Cab Calloway's  Hepsters Dictionary: The Language of Jive," which was published in 1938.

 An online version of the dictionary, which includes the jive definitions of terms such as "catď and "yard dog," can be Found through the Cab Calloway   Orchestra Web site at www.cabcalloway.cc/.

 Cab and his band The Missourians replaced Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1930 at Harlem's famed Cotton Club when Ellington was on tour.

Donning flashy Zoot suits and serenading the crowd with inventive scat sounds, Calloway's band was a hit with audiences.  Soon the band's name changed to Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra, becoming the club's new house band.

 Some of Calloway's most famous songs include "Minnie the Moocher" and "You Gotta Hi-De-Ho."

 After the Cotton Club closed in 1940, Calloway and his band continued to tour and perform.  Calloway also appeared in many movies.  He disbanded his salaried band in 1948 but he continued to perform on stage and screen until 1993.

 Brooks said while jazz has acquired the reputation as serious, intellectual music, Calloway's music is easier to enjoy.  "One of the great things about it is this is really the fun side of jazz that we bring out," Brooks said, "and that's what the crowd experiences."

 While Brooks respects his grandfather's legacy, it isnít the reverence that would squash any deviation from an original arrangement, killing the creative spirit at the heart of jazz.

"Every solo is the musicians own solo," Brooks said.  "We don't have musicians playing the solos note for note.  All the ensemble parts come from the original charts.  So in a way, it does kind of update the sensibility of the music a little bit."

 

CHERI HARRIS

Charris@chronicleonline.com