February 16th, 2012
Cab Calloway: Sketches
Statement from Director Gail Levin

<em>Cab Calloway: Sketches</em> director Gail Levin

Cab Calloway: Sketches director Gail Levin

hi de hi de hi de hi!!!…

…as popular as this Minnie the Moocher refrain still is and as often as it is evoked by even today’s most popular stylists, it should not eclipse another classic piece, equally evocative of the illustrious and inimitable Cab Calloway, the anthem of Sportin’ Life, it ain’t necessarily so

Calloway had a unique ability to actually “be” his music…  he inhabited every note, every nuance, making him singularly exciting as both “l’homme spectacle” and a sort of natural wonder… Sportin’ Life, the irrepressible and seductive dandy of PORGY & BESS, seemed ordained for him – ready for his slick and effortless moves, his beguiling and infectious personality…  one suspects Cab just had to move over a little to let Sportin’ Life out!…  so as we think about a film evoking the ineffable grace of Calloway, his style, his longevity, his indelible effect, that slithery, willowy guy that is Cab, was also every role he ever touched…   his life did not imitate his art – his life was his art!…

The colorful (pardon the pun) and extraordinary effect of Cab Calloway has been oddly overlooked in terms of a comprehensive, yet exuberant, film on his unparalleled life and times — his enduring place in the entertainment canon… though he easily comes to mind and appeared in countless cameo’s and performances in other people’s works, cartoons and shorts, it is now time to reprise this force of nature on his own terms…

As has been stated in the treatment, Calloway was a constant ambassador for his race and his music… a consummate musician and performer, he charmed audiences across the world with a light touch, a glistening smile, endless bravado and elegant musicianship…

And he embodied another rare characteristic – the ability to never lose his edge nor to become tired to the public…  for decades the “hi de hi de hi de ho” of Minnie has only continued to enchant and to captivate – always welcome and always keeping audiences panting for more…  the perfect example being Cab’s appearance in the 1980 homage to all things cool, hip and actually Black in America – the Blues Brothers!…  a gigantically popular film still, this gushing love affair with the legacy of Black music and musicians does, like Cab, have it’s own mythology, it’s own continuing cult…  and the advent of it’s thirtieth anniversary in 2010, is itself reason enough to look again at the fab Cab…

So it is our desire here to resurrect  Cab… to shine a new light on him, dust off his legend a bit and regard him as not only a triumph of his times but a timeless emblem of them as well…  The journey of the Black entertainer in America is one fraught with disgrace and struggle, racism and intolerance and a sort of “otherness” that often left the Black stars in a quandary trying to reconcile their place within the complexities of American society and the American audience…  One need only think of Harlem’s famous Cotton Club – entertainers adored by white audiences, yet expected to sit on the back of the bus…

The European’s, however, were something else… Seemingly color-blind and ever reverent in the face of genius, Black entertainers and in particular musicians, enjoyed enormous acceptance and adulation creating a sort of schism in their own consciousnesses…  We are reminded of people like Josephine Baker, the Dexter Gordon character of ‘round midnight, the good-will tours of Dizzy Gillespie as examples of a very uneven world…  lionized across the ocean, marginalized at home…

This film is filled with the opportunity to re-immortalize Cab Calloway… Of course we will access and hope to invoke the vast archival material, not simply from the Calloway estate but from others as well, like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie – all of whom count in the journey… And all equally exposed to the various cultural attitudes that surrounded Black entertainers on both sides of the Atlantic…

And along with the unearthing of material we think may never have been seen or heard before, we will hope to create yet another Cab persona – another animated “take” on him – which will enliven him to audiences that do not know him and will just add to the lore among those who do…  two great caricaturists – Steve Brodner in the US and Cabu in France – will put their pens and their personalities to new evocations of Calloway bringing art and animation as a very real element to the film…  We anticipate their interpretations on audio tracks, repositioning within the music and within created scenarios to bring a surprisingly new dimension to an appreciation of the uniqueness of this creature, Cab Calloway…  if one simply looks at his sinuous moves, his innate rhythm, his musicianship he entices the artist to come along…  he is an abiding subject so again, not only do we want to revisit him, we want to recreate him, if you will…

The film’s opening sequence will immediately lead us into the dance. Back to the street  in Harlem today (could be the original Cotton Club location, the Apollo theatre or another yet to be determined…)  we are watching the great American caricaturist Steve Brodner as he draws a lifesize depiction of Cab Calloway… Wwe will construct a vast canvas right on the street, integrated right into the actual fabric of Harlem. The idea is again to bring the street to life and Cab to life anew – and to elicit  responses from people watching. Some people will, of course, know immediately who Cab was – others will hopefully become interested and be curious as to what we are doing and who he was…

Perhaps as Brodner draws, people will sing or scat or just improvise what they may know of Cab’s repertoire – so maybe we will hear a few “hi de ho’s”  or “it ain’t necessarily so” or “yo Cab” or something entirely originally inspired… And we will actively encourage this participation from onlookers. We may create some way of playing Cab’s music and mixing it in, but we will hope to generate a great happening. And from this living canvas will emerge a new portrait of Cab, who will step off that page and be dancin’ in the street! This spontaneous scat symphony of art and music will fade across to Cab  in the Cotton Club, 1934…

Aside from these artistic and animated renderings, it is also our hope to reunite the Blues Brothers band and to incorporate new performances from other musicians, getting their “take” on this masterpiece of movement and emotion that is Cab Calloway…  new artists like Ne-yo, a pop and r&b, sometime rapper or classic jazz masters like Jon Faddis or Marcus Roberts who grew up in the echo of Calloway’s particular genius…  melding the performances with a sort of “animated documentary” approach, infusing the archival material with spontaneous eruptions of memory and moment, will give this film a very “in the present” feeling…  not another biopic in that sense of interview and recollection, but a re-invigoration of the whole Calloway presence and a reprise of a timeless virtuoso…

Cab Calloway, as the French say, “l’homme spectacle,”  and as the Americans say, “showman!”

Gail Levin

Salinger

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