[Monday Notes no. 70] Cab Calloway was an extraordinary singer, dancer and showman. After early successes at the Cotton Club where he filled in for none other than Duke Ellington's orchestra, he continued to perform throughout his life until he was over eighty years of age.
Cab Calloway was blessed with impressive vocal power and had no difficulty being heard while his orchestra played, although early amplification systems were not very efficient.
In this respect, his singing is quite different from that of the great crooners of the following generation. For example, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole often sang intimately, almost whispering into the microphone.
In his performances Cab Calloway never just does one thing, but always puts on a show by dancing, singing and winking with his expressive face. His energy is also impressive from an athletic angle as he performs wild dance steps during the instrumental parts played by the orchestra, and then attacks to sing at full power, showing no fatigue.
This version of St. Louis Blues is an excellent example of his style. After a brief introduction, at minute 0'10'' the trumpet plays the theme using a characteristic growl timbre. The second part of the theme is played by the trombone (0'25''), also using a growl timbre.
Next (0'45) the singing part begins: we can hear a long held note, powerful and perfectly pitched, lasting for a full nine measures. The following phrases have a blues color, while at minute 1'35'' Cab Calloway plays with words by performing a tongue-twister, almost a rap, before giving way again to the orchestra.
This piece reminds us that the great orchestras of the 1930s did not just make music but all-around entertainment, with interventions by dancers, humorists, and jugglers. In this sphere Cab Calloway was a true star, capable with his dance steps and facial expressions of capturing the audience's attention even before he sang: a true star, always center stage.
Until next Monday!
We have already analyzed another version of St. Louis Blues, performed by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. GO TO THE ARTICLE