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Daddy brings swingin' sounds to Arden

For two hours last Friday night, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s irresistibly syncopated swing and jump blues music transformed the Arden Theatre into Harlem’s notorious Cotton Club.

For two hours last Friday night, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s irresistibly syncopated swing and jump blues music transformed the Arden Theatre into Harlem’s notorious Cotton Club.

Owned by gangster Owney Madden, the Cotton Club was Manhattan’s hottest club during the 1920s and 30s where only the most influential celebrities could get in. Because of its strict racial policy — white only audience, black only performers — it gave African American legends such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Dorothy Dandridge a start.

Paying homage to these roots, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy strolled on stage nattily dressed in dapper pinstripe suits, ties, fedoras and the infamous black and white gangster shoes of a bygone era.

Back in April 2009, the nine-piece band released How Big Can You Get, a tribute to Cab Calloway. Virtually the entire two-hour concert was an homage to the dramatic, fun-loving icon.

As the coolest cats in town weaving their black magic — pumped-up dance floor jazz — they coloured it with a seductive horn section that threw in snatches of sultry Dixieland and bebop.

They set the tone opening with the infectious Come On with the “Come On”, a hand-clapping jump blues chart flavoured by drummer Kurt Sodergren’s showy drum solo and Dirk Schumaker twirling his upright bass to the audience’s delight.

The party was on, and by the time vocalist Scotty Morris moved into the second tune, Calloway Boogie Beat, fans were boppin’ in their seats.

These energetic, moxie musicians had nothing to prove. They had charmed audiences for 16 years and with a minimal amount of in-between song-patter, Morris gave fans what they wanted — Calloway’s dynamic numbers.

They barrelled ahead with Hey Now, Hey Now, The Jumpin’ Jive, Old Man of the Mountain, The Jitterbug, Reefer Man, How Big Can You Get, and of course, Calloway’s signature tune Minnie the Moocher.

Interestingly enough, back in the golden era of jazz, many bands enjoying commercial success limited solo space to their band members. Calloway broke the tradition by encouraging his musicians to display their virtuosic musicianship.

Big Bad Voodoo set egos aside and followed their footsteps. In every chart, Glen “The Kid” Marhevka (trumpet), Karl Hunter (alto/tenor sax), Andy Rowley (bari sax), Alex Henderson (trombone) and Anthony Bonsera Jr. (trumpet) walked up to the lip of the stage improvising incredible flashy horn solos that generated non-stop applause.

Buried among Calloway’s dance favourites was Simple Song, a tender contemporary piece Morris had written for his daughter, and 5-10-15, a number the band has not yet recorded. “It gives the boys a chance to stretch out,” explained Morris before spiralling into a string of solos with Josh Levy tinkling the ivories.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy found the right formula for a lightweight evening of contagious fun that still managed to impart some grit and soul, a perfect antidote to the winter blues.

Review

Big Black Voodoo Daddy<br />Friday, Jan. 22<br />Arden Theatre


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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