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American Masters: Cab Calloway: Sketches

Airs Friday, February 7, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Cab Calloway, 1943, The Strand, New York, N.Y.

Credit: All Rights Reserved/Artline Films / J.-F. Pitet

Above: Cab Calloway, 1943, The Strand, New York, N.Y.

Explore the life of this pioneering jazz legend who charmed audiences with his bravado and showmanship. A singer, dancer and bandleader, Cab Calloway led one of the most popular African-American big bands during the jazz and swing eras of the 1930s-40s, with Harlem’s famous Cotton Club as his home stage.

Best known for the “Hi de hi de hi de ho” refrain from his signature song “Minnie the Moocher,” for his portrayal of Sportin’ Life in "Porgy and Bess" (1952) and for his role in "The Blues Brothers" (1980), Calloway influenced countless performers, including Michael and Janet Jackson, and many of today’s hip-hop artists.

In "Cab Calloway: Sketches," Emmy®-winning filmmaker Gail Levin explores Cab Calloway’s musical beginnings and milestones in the context of the Harlem Renaissance and segregationist America using archival footage, animation based on caricatures by famed illustrator Steve Brodner and French cartoonist Cabu, and interviews.

The animated Cab dances alongside Matthew Rushing, choreographer/principal dancer of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater ("Uptown"), who explains how modern Calloway’s movements were and his impact on hip-hop.

Additional interviewees include Calloway’s daughters Cecelia and Camay; grandson and Cab Calloway Orchestra bandleader Chris “Calloway” Brooks; horn player Gerald Wilson; and "The Blues Brothers" (1980) director John Landis and band members Steve Cropper, Lou Marini and Donald “Duck” Dunne. The film introduced Cab and his music to a new generation, when he acted and performed as The Blues Brothers’ mentor, Curtis.

“I am especially delighted to bring Cab Calloway to younger audiences – and he does become quite alive through the inventive animation in this film,” says Susan Lacy, AMERICAN MASTERS series creator and executive producer. “He, and his era, are such a vital part of our musical cultural heritage – and such an energetic one!”

“This film is not just another biopic in the sense of interviews and recollections, but a reinvigoration of the whole Calloway presence – a reprise of a timeless virtuoso,” adds Levin.

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Cab Gives a Tour of Harlem

In this clip, Cab Calloway gives a tour of historic Harlem Jazz clubs with an animated map. Swing by the Cotton Club, which was home to the Cab Calloway Band, and learn about where the singers and band leaders and dancers went to get the best fried chicken.

Outtake: Cab Calloway vs. Dizzy Gillespie

Jazz writer Gary Giddens and jazz critic/cultural historian Stanley Crouch tell one of the great stories about the rivalry between Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie, both eccentric performers in their own right, when Gillespie played trumpet in Calloway’s band.

Outtake: The Blues Brothers Band Remembers Cab Calloway

Lou Marini (saxophone), Steve Cropper (guitar), and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) tell a story about a time when Cab Calloway sang “Summertime” from "Porgy and Bess" while walking to their respective elevators.

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