June 2020 Newsletter

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Dear friends,

My heart is so heavy for this country. I am horrified by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the continued oppression and brutality our black brothers and sisters continue to face. We need to do better.

It is not lost on me that I owe a great debt to black artists for their contributions to American music. I must credit my late mentor Bobby Jackson for teaching me that “jazz” (this is not a unanimously accepted word to describe the music) was not created in a vacuum. It is of its time, reflecting the conditions under which it was created. Because of Bobby’s teachings, I began prioritized learning the history (they don’t teach you in school) surrounding the creation and development of “jazz” and reading the memoirs of its innovators. I still have much to learn.

I encourage you to find a way to take action. I have started each morning finding a new petition to sign and a new elected official’s email or phone number to voice my concerns. Here are some causes I have supported and the resources I have been using to learn more about the history of racism in the United States.

After some soul searching, I decided to follow through with releasing my EP, The New Groove, on Bandcamp tomorrow as planned. It is an uncomfortable time to be promoting and releasing new music. I do not want my music to detract from the important work that needs to be done to make this country live up to its ideals for all who live here. I already announced the wrong release date once and I feel strange about postponing the release again. Also, I want to be able to move forward from this project and start working on new music for you all. I hope The New Groove brings you comfort during this uncertain time.

I am thinking of you all during these trying times. Let’s build a better future with compassion and music.

With hope,
Sam


Featured Sounds

The Henry Godfrey Jazz Orchestra performs Snarky Puppy’s “Bad Kids To The Back” (arr. Henry Godfrey)

Sheet Music For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace and Sheet Music Plus!


Latest From the Blog


Sneak peeks for future posts available on Patreon 

  • Cab Calloway and Minnie the Moocher – A couple of nights ago, I was on YouTube and the following video showed up as a recommendation. I am not sure why I decided to click, but I am so glad I did. … [Read More] 
     
  • Encountering Gunther: Reminiscing in Tempo – It was surprising to read about this groundbreaking piece that, after many years of being a devout Ellington fan and earning a degree in jazz composition, I never encountered before … [Read More]
     
  • Miss My Blog? – I miss it, too! Just when I felt like I was getting in a groove, the world got turned on its head …. [Read More]

Cab Calloway and Minnie the Moocher

The word “Jazz” has become a broad umbrella term for many different nuanced musical styles. It is rare to find someone who is truly knowledgable about the many traditions that sprouted from the mixing of African, Latin, and European musics in New Orleans. I would certainly not consider myself to be such a person, though I aspire to be one day.

From my time studying music at the collegiate and graduate level, I have noticed that large swaths of the jazz tradition are not discussed. I think there could be many reasons for this. Here are a few that might be most pertinent:

  1. Ignorance. People have not put in the time to study some of these areas of the tradition.
  2. The music is not considered “serious.” Academia might be afraid to take on music that is seen as “popular” rather than “art music.” (Personally, these lines become more blurred for me over time. I try to live by Duke Ellington’s philosophy – “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.)
  3. There is not a widely circulated, tried-and-true methodology for teaching music in these styles.

For me, Cab Calloway has been one of those names mentioned in passing. He was never discussed during my five years of collegiate jazz education. I came across his name in my own reading, but never dug into his music.

I read about Cab in Bill Milkowski incredible book Swing It!: An Annotated History of Jive. I highly recommend it. It is a lively read jam-packed with listening recommendations. He shines a light on this area of the jazz tradition that is often dismissed for popular music.

I listened to some of the recommended tracks, but being fully immersed in my graduate studies and work multiple jobs, I could not devote the time this book and music truly deserved.

Months have gone by. A couple nights ago, I was on YouTube and the following video showed up as a recommendation. I am not sure why I decided to click, but I am so glad I did.

Cab Calloway’s performance of “Minnie the Moocher” from The Blues Brother (1980)

At first, I was taken aback. To me, the performance appeared to a mere caricature of the “golden years” of Cab Calloway’s career. A phony backdrop depicting the long-shuddered jazz clubs where he played in his youth. The retro desks for the horn players. The white suit.

But, for reasons I cannot explain, I found myself replaying the video again and again. For hours. I started to see something different in it. Here is a man in his 70’s who is still able to put on an absolutely outstanding performance – as a musician and entertainer. Here is an audience that is showering him with love. Here is a team of directors, producers, etc. who recognized the importance of Cab Calloway and wanted to include him and introduce him to a new audience. How could anyone not marvel at this?

A 1934 performance of “Minnie the Moocher”

My obsession with this performance continues. I wanted to learn as music about it as I could. I found a couple interesting facts on IMDb.

This story reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald’s infamous “Mack the Knife” performance:

When Cab Calloway originally recorded “Minnie The Moocher” in the 1930s, the chorus lyrics were simply “Ho-dee-hody” rather than the lengthened “Hody-hody-hody ho”. In an interview, Calloway explained that one time when he was singing the song, he suddenly forgot the words, so he immediately shouted “Hody-Hody-Hody-ho!”, and carried on the song that way. That proved to be more popular with fans than the original, so he had been singing it that way ever since.

IMDb

This one resonates with my first impression of the performance:

When recording the soundtrack, Cab Calloway was needed to record his hit “Minnie the Moocher” in better quality than his original album. When he came into the studio, he was prepared to do the disco version, which had just been released. The filmmakers asked for the original version, which Calloway reluctantly gave them.

IMDb

I hope that Cab Calloway was ultimately able to enjoy the experience. Based on this story, it sounds like he did.

What are your favorite Cab Calloway recordings? How can we integrate this important figure, and his legacy, into jazz education?


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