Cab Calloway: The Reefer Man

July 19, 2006

Autograph owned by RB

Cab Calloway was one of the great 20th century American popular entertainers. I had never seen young Cab in action until I saw this video. The energy in this song is superhuman. My heart rate accelerates from the opening frenetic bass solo through the dizzying clarinet and sax licks, and if you thought Leonard Bernstein moved around too much, can you believe Cab? Watch for his dance break about 2/3rds of the way through. Wow. We should make this a new tradition, and it would serve to keep our conductors in shape. See how he tosses his hair? That’s a whole new technique, good thing as he had run out of limbs. I think we should go back to encouraging this style of conducting in our students although we may have to provide a heavy supply of coffee, if not something stronger.

Take note how Cab knows how to talk to an audience AND BE HEARD. There is no microphone there. The arranger put all of the melody in a range that could be projected and heard. If the tune were down say a fifth, the energy would be flabby. If it were higher, Cab would sound silly. Artists of this era learned to project their voices as actors or singers.

I find it interesting that the tempo seems to be FASTER than the resolution of this little clip giving it a surreal effect.

[Rufus Wainwright should take movement lessons from Cab — via video]

Look here for Cab’s family tree. Heptune has a helpful list of his work.

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