“Boo-Wah Boo-Wah” Cab Calloway (1940), with Chu Berry and Dizzy Gillespie
Composed by Larry Clinton; arranged by Buster Harding
Recorded by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra for OKeh Records on August 5, 1940 in New York City.
Cab Calloway, vocal, directing: Mario Bauza, first trumpet; Lammar Wright, John B. “Dizzy” Gillespie, trumpets;Tyree Glenn, Quentin “Butter” Jackson, Frederic H. “Keg” Johnson, trombones; Hilton Jefferson, first alto saxophone; Andrew Brown, alto saxophone; Leon “Chu” Berry, Walter “Foots” Thomas, tenor saxophones; Jerry Blake, baritone saxophone; Bennie Payne, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Milt “the Judge” Hinton; William “Cozy” Cole, drums. Lavere “Buster” Harding, arranger.
Cab Calloway (1907-1994) was an extraordinary singer, dancer and entertainer. He was a handsome man whose powerful voice, colorful costumes and jivey antics made him a successful entertainer for decades. In my opinion, he was a forerunner for much of what is now standard operating procedure onstage for popular singing acts. But Calloway was also a remarkably capable musician and bandleader who knew what was required to build and maintain a first-rate dance/jazz band. In Jim Crow America, Calloway’s magnetic stage presence and singing, always backed up by a good band that reached a peak of brilliance as the 1940s began, made him the one black entertainer of those times who came closest in money earned to the top white bands of the era. The Calloway band presented here is superb, with excellent musicians filling all of its chairs. The instrumental stars of the band were tenor saxophonist Chu Berry and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. They were supported brilliantly by lead trumpeter Mario Bauza, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Cozy Cole.
The music: “Boo-Wah Boo-Wah” as a tune is nothing special. It is little more than a simplistic series of riffs cobbled together by bandleader/arranger Larry Clinton. But what arranger Buster Harding and the Calloway band do with it is remarkable. After a brief intro, Cab comes on with a typically robust and swinging vocal. Hear drummer Cozy Cole behind him: his playing here and throughout this performance is the quintessence of swing drumming at its best. The first instrumental solo is played by tenor saxophonist Chu Berry. He had a big, warm sound, without the edge of other tenor giants of the time like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Paul Bascomb. Berry’s jazz ideas were always stimulating, his technique impeccable, and his harmonic sense adventurous. At the time he made this recording, he was clearly one of the best tenor saxophonists in jazz, whose playing was on display with perhaps the top Afro-American band in the U.S. in terms of popularity. Everyone Berry ever played with admired him. Cab Calloway echoed the thoughts of many when he said: “…when he got up on that bandstand and opened up on that horn…Lord!” Tragically, Berry was killed as a result of injuries he received in an auto crash less than fourteen months after this recording was made. He was only 33 years old. (At right: drummer Cozy Cole (left) and tenor saxophonist Chu Berry.)
Berry’s full chorus solo is superb and exciting: the rhythmic thrust of it is almost palpable. The bright, incisive instrumental backgrounds fashioned by Buster Harding give him a swinging intense backdrop to work against.
Berry is followed by 23 year old trumpet soloist Dizzy Gillespie. It is clear that Gillespie’s playing, even in 1940, was pointed in a different harmonic direction than what was then common in mainstream swing. Gillespie would continue on this course through the early 1940s, eventually arriving at the post-swing jazz idiom called bebop. Whatever else may have been going on in Gillespie’s solo, he plays wonderful jazz, and swings in his own way from the first note to the last note of his solo. (Gillespie is pictured at left as a Calloway sideman in 1939.) I think that the eight bar trombone solo is played by Tyree Glenn. Drummer Cozy Cole’s powerful swing (check out his cunning use of his bass drum) is in evidence behind all of these solos, and indeed throughout this performance.
The out-chorus demonstrates the tight coordination of the various sections of the Calloway band, playing against rocking rhythm. This is A-grade swing.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.