Cab Calloway’s Legacy
First picture Duke Ellington, circa 1930: straight-backed and gracefully appointed, leading his orchestra with a nod from the piano bench. Then you can imagine what kind of hell broke loose when Cab Calloway abandoned the prevalent rules of stagy pretense for a wild new kind of jazz showmanship. Curling his lanky body and elastic face into emotive contortions, Calloway bumped Ellington out of the Cotton Club — and cast the prototype for eruptive performers from Little Richard to Prince.
The singer and bandleader, who died at 86 on Nov. 18 of complications from a stroke, studied law before taking up music. Most famous for his lightly naughty ”Minnie the Moocher” (the ”hi-de-ho” song), Calloway left a vast catalog of hepcat whimsy, including the hits ”The Jumpin’ Jive” and ”Are You All Reet!” He branched tentatively into B movies, such as Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937) and was rediscovered by rock-generation artists like Dan Aykroyd, with whom he appeared in The Blues Brothers (1980). ”Calloway brought a new level of freedom and intensity to music,” Aykroyd says. ”Those of us raised with rock & roll take that quality for granted. But it all goes back to Cab.” Recommended: BEST OF THE BIG BANDS: CAB CALLOWAY Sides from his prime, including ”Reefer Man.” CAB CALLOWAY: ARE YOU HEP TO THE JIVE? R&B-oriented material from the ’40s.