Cab Calloway Orchestra reviewed at Birdland

Is Cab Calloway Back?

Concert Review by: Dan Kassell

After the band vamp (as if for a stripper's entrance) and Birdland's announcement, "The Prince of Hi-De-Ho, Calloway Brooks", a tall lean gent jumped on stage to front the mostly hatted variously attired twelve member ensemble wearing a long white coat to his knees, white high draped pants over black & whites, a pheasant feathered white wide-brimmed hat and matching red deco clipped tie. He's a sight and when he extends his long arms and opens his mustachioed mouth flashes of his Grandfathers' vocal quality shine through each performance based upon the original 30's and 40's charts of Cab Calloway's Orchestra's.

The first soloist, tenor saxophonist Patience Higgins blows with authority prompting my curiosity. Does he sound modern? Well yes, his intonation is contemporary and that's good for it's within the late 90's jump revival sound scape that's based upon the style Cab Calloway popularized and tonight is anchored by the woody bass sounds of humorous writer Bill Crow. This band is definitely not Mickey-Mouse to use a George T. Simon phrase, not strict repertory either, but listening and watching Calloway Brooks lead this band I sense a sincere effort to bring humor and showmanship to what could be a great band.

"Now a rare gem from the Calloway vaults, one of the cradles of bop, the never recorded, 'Just a Rebop Guy', Calloway Brooks announced to this Birdland audience opening night (2/21/01) then sings "If that rhythm don't make you move, You're Square!"; on "Jungle King" trombonist Wayne Goodman played exuberantly muted behind Brooks' vocalizing and on "The Fastest Tune Ever Written", a novelty composed and arranged by Brooks, altoist Jimmy Cozier ripped off an exciting solo.

Flashes of the precision of Cab's 30's band are recognizable during the unison sax section (Patience Higgins-lead tenor, Jimmy Cozier-second alto, Zane Paul-lead alto, Anthony Nelson-second tenor, Robert Eldridge-baritone) opening of "Come On With The Come On", it's that smooth well-rehearsed sound of saxophones that sounds like thick cream flowing. Too bad there's no dance floor at Birdland. After a cool alto solo by Cozier the screeching high trumpet solo by Winston Byrd is exciting but struggling to keep up to the exceptionally fast tempo though the elder Mr. Paul, wearing a stylish beret, blew a fierce clarinet solo; both trombonist Jason Jackson & Wayne Goodman were obviously pleased with their in unison effort; Joel Martin continued with a tinkling piano full of lots of runs; Brian Grice got the crowds applause after a funky drum interlude but it was on the out chorus when the tall baritone saxophonist Bobby Eldridge added that unique upper register flavor on clarinet that the brass and rhythm molded like Jell-O to go with the cream.

Even the audience got to participate in response to Brooks' question, "Are you hip to the Jive?" Their answer, "Yas-Yas".

As expected the closer is "number 477, Minnie The Moocher", but tonight it again sounds fresh as this audience responded with the same joyful "Hi-De-Ho" I heard Cab Calloway (wearing a gorgeous red brocade dinner jacket) evoke from his men at his daughter's High School Junior Prom in Tarrytown, NY in 1960. His jacket and the power of his music mesmerized me then and tonight I'm refreshed watching this Calloway Brooks emulating the jive that made Cab an entertainment treasure.

Come and see for yourself every Wednesday at Birdland in July beginning on the famous 4th and ask Brooks to tell you about his Granddad Cab and Louie Armstrong.