Cab Calloway (And His Orchestra) – Hi De Hi De Ho – RCA Victor/Pure Pleasure Records 180 gram stereo Audiophile Limited Edition LP, LSP-2021, ****:
Cabell “Cab” Calloway III did not start out his life in the stereotypical jazz way. Born to a middle class family (his father was an attorney, his mother a teacher and church organist), young Cab began singing in church. His parents recognized his talent and arranged voice lessons. Despite his musical education, Calloway was imbued with a passion for jazz. He joined his sister Blanche, in a touring production of Plantation Days. In Chicago, he met Louis Armstrong, who introduced him to the world of “scat” singing. Calloway would front a band as a singer, replacing a touring Duke Ellington at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem. Radio broadcasts on NBC, Walter Winchell and appearances with Bing Crosby elevated him to stardom.
His records were considered to be “vocal specialties”, and became hugely successful. The apex of his fame came with the release of “Minnie The Moocher”. This record was used in Betty Boop cartoons, and led to film roles. A natural performer, he would invent the “reverse glide” later popularized as the “moonwalk” by Michael Jackson. Broadway celebrity arrived as he owned the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess. His unique vocal style, blending vaudeville with jazzy improvisation, set Calloway apart from his peers. Each generation would rediscover this performer, as exemplified by his scintillating performance (“Minnie The Moocher”, of course) in the 1980 classic movie, The Blues Brothers.
Hi De Hi De Ho, released in 1960, was designed to re-record the classic songbook of Cab Calloway with state of the art technology (Living Stereo). The shrillness and muddled sound of the 1930s has been replaced with clear separated hi-fidelity. Calloway’s fantastic vocal prowess is captured with precise detail. “St. James Infirmary” begins with a subtle bass and guitar, then transforms into a hilarious wailing blues gem. The inventive phrasing by Calloway weaves a comic spell over the urban landscape (…”six crapshootin’ pallbearers”). These exaggerated vocals can be heard on “The Jumpin’ Jive”, as the bandleader trades chants with the backup singers. More of these refrains enliven the title track.
Certainly, the signature piece is “Minnie The Moocher." A torrent of soulful litany (no doubt inspired by his church background) is unleashed as the “Hi De Hi De Ho” exchanges are dazzling. It is disappointing that the drug reference is omitted with a clumsy substitution. “Kicking The Gong Around”, which also uses Minnie as a character, maintains the subversive vernacular. The band is sharp on this cut, especially the sultry trumpet solo. Two songs from Porgy and Bess bring a new interpretation to Gershwin. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (strongly associated with the charismatic icon) is full of jump swing breaks and a sleek alto clarinet run. Calloway’s elocution is incomparable, and delves into the varied lyrical nuances. “Summertime”, with a controlled breathing technique, is a harbinger of future R & B versions of classic Broadway fare.
This music is rejuvenated by the audiophile re-mastering. Speaker division has refined the correct balance between the orchestra and the vocals. Bass and guitar no longer sound lost in the mix. The horns are crisp and mellifluous. Calloway’s singing is more articulate than on earlier recordings. The cover boasts an engaging photograph of the ebullient band leader in long tails. Hi De Hi De Ho is a tribute to a great performer.
TrackList: Side 1: The Hi De Ho Man; I’ll Be Around; Summertime; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Kicking The Gong Around; You Rascal You.
Side 2: Minnie The Moocher; I See A Million People (But All I Can See Is You); St. James Infirmary; Stormy Weather; The Jumpin’ Jive.
— Robbie Gerson