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The Lorenz-Pulte Jazz and Blues Page

by Brenna and Megaera Lorenz

CONTENTS

 
Photograph of Cab Calloway conducting.
 

CAB CALLOWAY

(photo from the liner notes of Cab Calloway and his Orchestra 1934-1937; Classics, vol. 554, France, 1990.)

    We first encountered Cab in a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon called "Minnie the Moocher." Here we saw live footage of a lithesome man dancing the moonwalk to "Prohibition Blues," an old Missourians instrumental performed by the Cab Calloway Orchestra (the former Missourians). We didn't know at that time who he was, but we were captivated by the haunting music and the intriguing dance. Then the cartoon itself commenced. When Betty and Bimbo ran into a cave, they were greeted by Cab Calloway, disguised as the rotoscoped ghost of a walrus, singing his signature tune, "Minnie the Moocher." The outlandish imagery and the eerie song fascinated us. The cartoon ended with another Missourians instrumental, "Vine Street Drag." We were hooked. We had to find more about this Cab Calloway!
    Richard Fleischer, the son of Max Fleischer (the creator of Betty Boop), said that when Cab first saw himself as a spectral walrus in "Minnie the Moocher," he fell off his chair laughing. Cab made two more cartoons with the Fleischers: "Snow White" and "Old Man of the Mountain." Snow White" is considered one of the finest cartoons ever made. (See The 50 Greatest Cartoons, as Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals, edited by Jerry Beck, Turner Publishing, Inc., 1994.)
    You don't get to see any live action of Cab in "Snow White," which is too bad, but the animation is incredible and, of course, the music is Cab and his Orchestra at their best. First Cab sings "St. James Infirmary" in the rotoscoped guise of Koko the Clown. "St. James Infirmary" was Cab's original signature tune, but he wanted something written specifically for himself, so he and Irving Mills wrote "Minnie the Moocher" to supplant "St. James Infirmary." The two melodies are extremely similar, and also bear a close resemblance to "Prohibition Blues." "Snow White" ends with the old Missourians instrumental, "Stopping the Traffic."
    In "Old Man of the Mountain," Cab and his Orchestra appear live at the beginning playing "Minnie the Moocher," segueing into "Old Man of the Mountain." This cartoon is non-stop Cab from beginning to end. He appears first as an owl, singing the title song. The words have been changed for the cartoon, in which the Old Man is a villain. In the original song, the Old Man is a benevolent character. Next we see Cab as the Old Man himself, rotoscoped and singing, "You Gotta Hi-De-Hi," followed by "The Scat Song."
    In all of these cartoons, Cab's characters are set in caves with menacing and ominous background illustrations: skeletons, skulls, ghosts, leering faces, and gambling, alcohol and drug paraphernalia. People have claimed that the Fleischers were unaware of the drug references in Cab's songs (for example, "kicking the gong around" meaning "smoking opium"), but the imagery in the animations suggests otherwise.
    Cab was one of the most remarkable vocalists in the history of jazz. He could leap off a cliff, vocally, and always land on his feet. No matter what he did or how outrageous he got, he always sounded good.

Click here to reference a table of the Works of Cab Calloway.
Click here to read more details about Cab Calloway in the Betty Boop cartoon, Minnie the Moocher.
Visit the website of the revived Cab Calloway Orchestra, directed by Cab's grandson, C. Calloway Brooks.
Read Chris Calloway's excellent article about her father.


Photograph of Blanche Calloway.
(photo from Big Band Jazz by Albert McCarthy; G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1974.)

BLANCHE CALLOWAY

    Shortly after we fell in love with Cab Calloway, we learned that he had an older sister named Blanche who was also a band leader. We found a picture of her in a book of jazz, a beautiful, lithe lady with that distinctive Calloway grin. With a little checking around, we discovered that recordings of her were available on the Classics Chronogical Series. We ordered the CD through the Sound Factory, and it arrived on Guam at the same time as Typhoon Dale. They called us to tell us that it was in and we went straight out and got it, even though we were already in Typhoon Condition 1. The typhoon struck soon afterward, the power went out, and between the storm, the night, and the typhoon shutters on the windows, it was pitch dark inside our house. We listened to Blanche for the first time on a battery-operated CD player with the storm howling outside for accompaniment. Somehow, it seemed an appropriate background for this incredible woman, whose power and spirit reached out over almost 70 years to touch us and awe us and speak to us, and we felt as if she were right there with us.
    Blanche has a sound and style that is rougher and raunchier and wilder than Cab's, but she shares with her brother that distinctive Calloway energy and sure musical touch. Her subject matter is earthier than anything Cab recorded. Her signature tune is "Growlin' Dan." The song contains references to Minnie the Moocher, showing that Blanche was influenced somewhat by her younger brother. Cab and Blanche both recorded a song called "It Looks Like Susie." We heartily hope that somewhere there exists a recording of Cab and Blanche performing together, but as far as we know, nothing of the kind was ever made.
    Considering the prodigious amount of Blanche's music that was never recorded, those few recordings we do have are all the more to be treasured.
    Once in a great while, we have an opportunity to play Blanche's recordings on the radio here on Guam. We know that most of the people who happen to hear her have no idea what a rare treat they are getting, but we jubilate at the idea of Blanche Calloway on the airwaves, in the 1990s, on Guam.

Click here to reference a table of the Works of Blanche Calloway.
Click here to see the lyrics of Blanche's songs.
Read Chris Calloway's excellent article about her Aunt Blanche.

Drawing of Blanche Calloway by Megaera Lorenz.

Drawing by Megaera Lorenz based on Duncan Schiedt's photograph.

THOMAS "FATS" WALLERPhotograph of Fats Waller playing the piano and wearing his famous bowler hat, inspired by his mentor, Willie the Lion Smith.

(photo from Michael Lipskin's collection from Fats Waller by Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrease, Schirmer Books, NY, 1977)

    Once we had discovered Cab Calloway through his participation in Betty Boop cartoons, we set out to find everything we could pertaining to him. Early on, we bought a copy of the CD, Viper Mad Blues, which starts out with Cab's "Kickin' the Gong Around," a song belonging to the Minnie the Moocher series. Also included on this CD is Fats Waller performing, "The Reefer Song." We loved that song in particular. That was our introduction to Thomas "Fats" Waller.
    We also ordered several videos of film shorts that had been recorded throughout the thirties and forties. Several of these featured Fats Waller; he performed "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Your Feets' Too Big," and "The Joint is Jumpin'." Many of these were his own compositions. We could not get enough of Fats Waller. We played the shorts over and over, and marveled at his distinctive piano playing, his intriguing voice and his amazing humor. Here was a man who could play piano like no one else can, sing, flirt, and kid around all at the same time. His intricate piano playing, his gravel-and-honey voice, and his wisecracks all combined to produce an intimate effect; with Fats Waller, you feel as if he were right there in the room with you, sharing a joke and a secret.
    Fats Waller was simultaneously funny looking and attractive, silly and dignified. He was eccentric, brilliant, charismatic, irresponsible, wild, sweet-natured, and proud. He was the ultimate free spirit, and while there was not a mean streak in him anywhere, he would never let anyone push him around. His son, Maurice, has written an excellent biography, Fats Waller, published in 1977 by Schirmer Books, NY, and co-authored by Anthony Calabrese.
    Fat's last performance was his appearance in the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather." His performance with Ada Brown is quite remarkable. He died of bronchial pneumonia on the train ride back from Hollywood, at the age of 39. If we could travel back through time, the first place we would go would be that train, where we would give Fats Waller a shot of penicillin.

Click here to find Viper Mad Blues or Fats Waller's biography at Amazon.com.


Photograph of Don Redman.DON REDMAN

(photo from Max Jones files, published on the cover of Don Redman: Doin' what I please, Living Era, Academic Sound and Vision, LTD, England, 1993)

    We first learned about Don Redman by way of the 1932 Betty Boop cartoon, "I Heard," which featured Don as a guest artist. The cartoon begins with live footage of Don and his Orchestra, playing "Chant of the Weed," one of Don's best-known compositions. Further on in the cartoon, we hear Don singing two of his other trademark pieces, "How'm I Doin'?" and "I Heard." The words to "How'm I Doin'?" were modified for the cartoon.
    Don's style was quiet and subtle, and at first we didn't pay too much attention to him; we were attracted initially to the flashier Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, who also appeared in Betty Boop cartoons. Then we heard Don Redman performing with Louis Armstrong in "It's Tight Like That," a really funny song with Don saying in his quiet, soft, mischievous voice, "It's tight like that, Louis," to which Louis replies, in his deep growl, "No it ain't tight like that." Several bands perform "Tight Like That," but this is the most appealing rendition we have heard. We tried looking for Don Redman in various books about jazz, and had a terrible time finding anything about him at all. Since then, we have discovered that he was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the '20s and '30s. It is puzzling and sad that this brilliant composer, band leader, arranger, vocalist, and wind instrument prodigy should have been so neglected.
    Don Redman is a treasure. His compositions and arrangements are distinctive; he composed "Hot and Anxious," part of which formed the nucleus of "In the Mood," which made a fortune for someone, but not Don Redman. He led excellent bands that sounded a lot like the early Cab Calloway bands, and his vocal style was absolutely unlike any other: a quiet half singing, half speaking that is alluring and playful.
        Fortunately for all of us, Don recorded a film short called "Yeah, Man." He looks just like he sounds. We are willing to bet that as a kid he played all kinds of tricks in school, but was never suspected, let alone caught.
    Don Redman wrote a book called Chant of the Weed, which is unfortunately out of print.

Click here to see the lyrics of some of songs performed by Don Redman.


 LOUIS ARMSTRONGPhotograph of a very young Louis Armstrong.

(photo from the cover of Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra: 1929-1930; Classics, vol. 557, France, 1990)

    What can we say about Louis Armstrong that everyone doesn't know already? He is probably the best-known of all jazz musicians. He is given credit for essentially creating jazz in its modern form.
    I must confess that I didn't care for Louis Armstrong when I heard him as a kid in the fifties and sixties. In retrospect, I am sure that my reaction was to the type of  music that he and everyone else performed in that era; all that cheesy "Hello Dolly" kind of stuff.
    If you want to hear (and see) Louis Armstrong at his wild, ferocious best, you have to go back to the '20s and '30s. We all were reintroduced to him via the Betty Boop cartoon, "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal, You," in which he performs the title song, one of his favorites. The cartoon ends with the famous "Tiger Rag." You must be warned: this cartoon is racist; it would not be acceptable today, but the music is incredible, and you do get to see footage of Louis. You can also see Louis performing the same song in a film short called "Rhapsody in Black and Blue." He is magnificent in this short, performing in an outrageous leopard-skin costume, laughing, charging around, growling and making faces. You can appreciate the life he brings to this song if you have ever heard it performed by other artists.
    "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead" is an old hokum song, full of sexual allusions, typical of that genre. Hokum is a predecessor of jazz, emerging from the vaudeville tradition. It has a folk-music sound to it, not all that different from the earliest country music.
    One of the best ways to understand how Louis Armstrong changed jazz is to compare his performance of this song with those of other artists of the time: Coot Grant and Kid Wesley Wilson, for example, or Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. These people did very beautiful traditional renditions of the song. Louis's approach is totally different: more dynamic, freer, more improvisational. It is also of interest to hear Cab Calloway perform "You Rascal, You"; like so many jazz artists, Cab went through a Louis Armstrong phase and you can hear it plainly in this performance.

Click here to see Louis Armstrong's autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, at amazon.com.


 FRANKIE "HALF-PINT" JAXON Photograph of Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon.

(photo from the cover of Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon: Complete recorded works in chronological order, vol. 1; Document Records, Vienna, 1994.)

    When we got the Viper Mad Blues collection, one of the recordings that really caught our attention was "Willie the Weeper," because this is the song on which "Minnie the Moocher" was based, at least in terms of the lyrics.
    The singer who performed "Willie the Weeper" had an odd, high-pitched, rather cat-like, but very appealing and funny style. We found out that the singer was named Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, and we pictured Frankie as being a small, funny-looking woman with a big grin.
    We had another recording of Frankie on a CD from the same series (Mojo) as Viper Mad Blues, this one on an album called the Copulatin' Blues. (They sang about these things quite a lot back then.) This was a very raunchy song called "My Daddy Rocks Me with One Steady Roll," full of extremely suggestive lyrics and sound effects. It was recorded by a jug band, which only added to the effect. We took a liking to Frankie, and decided to order a CD of the singer.
    What a shocker it was to open the package and see a picture of Frankie for the first time -- and to discover that Frankie was a man!
    Once we got over the shock and read the pamphlet inside, we found out that Frankie was a vaudeville star and famous female impersonator from the 'teens, 'twenties, and 'thirties. Frankie's recordings were funny, wild and suggestive, often studded with little bits of Frankie's vaudeville comedy routines. Occasionally, Frankie would start out a song by saying something like, "I'm going to sing you a song entitled, "Roses are red, coal is black; if your pants are too loose, just pull in the slack!'" Then he would proceed to sing something that had nothing to do with the "title" he had given it. Frankie is known to have appeared in a film short called "Black and Tan Fantasy" with Duke Ellington, in which he played a piano mover. There are also appearances by a little man who looks suspiciously like Frankie in many other film shorts with which he was never credited. We are virtually certain that he is the small man who appears in the beginning of the Bessie Smith short, "St. Louis Blues." And recently we found him in the movie Emperor Jones, in which he plays a treasurer. He has only one line, but he makes the most of it. He looks even more diminutive than ever next to big Paul Robeson, the star of the movie.

We have been able to find four CDs devoted to the recordings of Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon. (We personally like his earliest stuff best.)
 

Click below to find these works at amazon.com: 

Click here to find Viper Mad Blues or Copulatin' Blues at amazon.com.

LIL JOHNSON

    We wish we could show you a photograph of Lil Johnson, but as far as we have been able to determine, no one really knows who she was. She was a prolific recording artist, but there is no evidence that she ever gave live performances.

     Lil Johnson always sounds like she's having a good time, even when she's singing the blues. In I Lost My Baby, the melody, her style and her spoken comments all suggest that she's not all that sorry that she lost her baby.
     Just how raunchy was Lil Johnson? To find out, check out some of her songs on our Jazz and Blues Lyrics Page. If You Can Dish It (I Can Take It), Press My Button, Get 'Em From the Peanut Man and Sam-the Hot Dog Man should give you the idea!

Click below to find these works at amazon.com: 


Photo of Mount Jazzmore.

Here we are visiting the famous Mount Jazzmore, with its stone portraits of Don Redman, Cab Calloway, Frankie Jaxon and Louis Armstrong.



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LINKS AND WEBRRINGS TO OTHER JAZZ AND BLUES SITES:
    For a listing of movies featuring big bands: David Mulliss's web site!
    For jazz photos, book listings, CD listings, and general information: Tom Morgan's web site!
    For blues information, the Memphis blues web site!

Click here to find more jazz sites at Open Directory Project.
 
 
 

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