performance ignites audience participation
By ANN MARIE STEWART
For jazz fans around the
world, the name Cab Calloway is immediately associated with his most
famous song, the sultry yet playful "Minnie the Moocher," which he
performed in the film "The Blues Brothers" with John Belushi and Dan
Aykroyd. The hook for the song: the familiar call and response phrase
But outside of being a
catchy part of a song, that phrase, which bears a passing resemblance to
Ned Flanders' "Hi-diddly-ho" in "The Simpsons," is a greeting to
friends, an invitation to exchange. And it is just that warm interactive
quality that is present at Cab Calloway Orchestra performances.
"Live performance is one of
the most powerful and fascinating of cultural phenomena," said C.
Calloway Brooks, Cab's grandson and musical heir, the current director
of the Cab Calloway Orchestra. "When you watch TV or listen to a CD, it
usually isn't as interreflective, it's largely solitary. A Calloway
performance always surfs with that interreflective energy of a crowd of
people. "That's one of the reasons why there is more audience
participation in a Calloway performance than with any other Jazz artist.
Expect to do a little singing yourself," Brooks added.
In 1996, two years after his
granddad passed away, Calloway began prelaunch preparations for the
creation of the orchestra. "I pulled together hundreds of his
original charts from his golden era and some of the finest jazz
musicians in New York and performed the orchestrations, some of which
had never been recorded," he said. "That was the birth of the band I now
Like rock 'n' roll, big band
music draws from diverse musical styles and blends them together to
create a new amalgam. It is perhaps this aspect of jazz that Calloway
finds most appealing and American. "In order to create this music,
many American cultures came together on a co-equal basis, including
African, European, Native American and Hispanic, in order to form a
tremendously successful, truly authentic American sound," he said.
"Cotton Club-style music epitomizes the possibilities inherent in
merging American diversity. In the patriotic fervor sweeping the
country, even before 9/11, swing is really the most American of all art
music, the one which the world most clearly identifies with the United
States. "The music helps us look beyond the things that divide us
and celebrate our common humanity."
Brooks comes from rich
musical roots, sharing his grandfather's bloodline, training at the New
England Conservatory of Music and earning a degree, as well as having
his unique experiences watching Cab and performing with him. "When
I was just a little tyke and Granddad was in town, he was the de facto
day care, and it gave me a chance to spend time with him in the hotel
and to watch him rehearse the band," Brooks said. "Once, when Mom came
to pick me up at the Blue Room, I refused to go home. I was just
mesmerized watching him. I spent a lot of time watching him perform and
rehearse, all through his life, to his very last years sitting down
together, talking about the music. According to the Tibetan Book of the
Dead, we see and choose our parents, so who knows."
Every day Brooks carries on
the tradition of American big band music. Made popular during the 1930s
and 1940s by Calloway and other famous jazz musicians such as Louis
Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne and Dizzy Gillespie
(all of whom performed with Calloway at some point in their careers),
swing music and the big band sound is still energetic, joyous and
soulful -- and still appealing to audiences, young and old.
According to Brooks, his granddad's last wish was that he would try to
keep the music alive.
"We were sitting in the den
of his huge house in White Plains in New York, listening to a recording
of the band, and he got all choked up, which was rare, because he was
one tough cookie offstage," Brooks said. "Granddad talked about the
music and said that he couldn't understand why more people didn't know
and love it. He said he was afraid it would die out and that everybody
would forget it.
"I'm glad so many people are
helping me prove the old man wrong. I somehow know that Granddad is
smiling down on us and maybe scatting along to some of his favorite
of his favorite tunes."