Cab Calloway Orchestra brings big band sound to River Campus

Friday, September 30, 2011
C. Calloway Brooks and the Cab Calloway Orchestra perform the music that Brooks' grandfather had wrote and sang back when big band music was soaring. (Cab Calloway Orchestra ~ Submitted Photo)

Growling trumpets, blazing hot horns and a rock-steady rhythm section create in the big band sound that first found life in the 1920s and '30s in clubs like the Cotton Club in New York and the Dreamland Cafe in Chicago.

One man is bringing that swingin' sound to the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus on Oct. 7 for a concert at 7:30 p.m. in Bedell Performance Hall. C. Calloway Brooks, grandson of swing legend and fabled showman Cab Calloway, will take the stage with the Cab Calloway Orchestra, bringing to life the music his grandfather wrote and performed for generations.

Brooks didn't just spontaneously decide to sing his grandad's music. It's been in his blood as long as he can remember.

"I first heard my grandfather performing as a little kid," Brooks said. "My mom left me with him at a rehearsal at the Shoreham Blue Room; that's the first time I ever really saw his music live. He was baby-sitting, and I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. She couldn't tear me away; I was smitten from that moment on."

He toured with his grandfather occasionally through the years, while Brooks attended New England Conservatory of Music.

After Cab Calloway passed away, Brooks realized it was his calling to revive and continue his grandfather's legacy, and in 1998, the Cab Calloway Orchestra was born.

Brooks said he wanted the bandmembers to be as good as any musician who played with his grandfather.

"I've got guys that have played with all the big bands, like Cleave Guyton," Brooks said, referring to his lead saxophonist. "He's played with the Ellington Orchestra, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra ... Our lead trombone player, Isrea Butler, came from Eastman College of Music."

The band has revived the songs that have become familiar hits, including fan favorite "Minnie the Moocher." This song epitomizes Cab Calloway's distinctive performance style, incorporating audience participation into the show to bring the energy level to a new high.

"It's really one of the more distinctive features of my grandfather's music, that it is so involved with audience participation, and really, the key is to bring the music out of the audience in a way," Brooks said. "I say that we're only as good as our audience is, and I'm looking forward to a great one in Cape Girardeau."

"Audience participation is key," he said. "It's the key element of all of this."

Brooks noted that the band has an expansive catalog from which to choose performance materials.

"These are almost all Calloway charts, although we do one or two of my own original compositions, and a couple of well-known favorites from other big bands," he said.

"There are a few things that my grandfather never had the chance to record," Brooks said. "He told me there were some great charts in the vaults that he never had the chance to 'put down on wax,' as he said.

"It's a real honor to carry on that legacy."

Brooks hopes the legacy continues even after he has gone.

"My nephew, Cochise Brooks, is working on his lead trumpet playing," Brooks said. "He's appeared with us on a gig or two; he just turned 16."

Tickets are $34 and $28 and may be purchased by contacting the River Campus box office, 651-2265 or metrotix.com.

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