Minnie the Moocher, “Hi-De-Ho,” Hep Cats and the Reefer Man.

Cab Calloway’s charismatic personality and hyperactive stage persona have tended to overshadow the fact that in the late 1930s and 1940s his band was one of the finest jazz units in “Swingdom.” Soloists like Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, Chu Berry, Ike Quebec, Sam “The Man” Taylor, Milt Hinton and Cozy Cole were all members of the band at various times during this period.

Cab’s 1944-46 band was an especially swinging and cohesive unit, in part because they spent close to nine months at the Club Zanzibar in Manhattan over a three-year period. The fact that there were fewer one-nighters and gigs out of town resulted in less turnover, and a unified feel whenever the band performed on stage or screen. Being able to sleep in your own bed week-after-week certainly kept band morale high.

In June 1945 Cab and the band recorded and filmed a second series of Soundies, resulting in five shorts. The Soundies are not as well-known as his 1942 Soundie, largely because Cab’s contract now prohibited the reissue of his musical shorts. Almost all of them are outstanding and we will share more of them in the upcoming months.

“We the Cats Shall Hep Ya” was a hit for Cab, a tune that is credited to him, although Jack Palmer and Buster Harding probably wrote the words and music. Harding arranged the tune to feature Cab’s vocals and the booting “Texas tenor” of Ike Quebec. The band swing mightily, something that is made easier when you have a first-rate rhythm section that includes Dave Rivera, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Milt Hinton, string bass; and J.C. Heard, drums.