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Improvising Social Resistance

Karl Coulthard

Published: 2010-07-22

This article focuses on Cab Calloway's historic use of uniquely African American forms of expression, such as the dialects of jive and the syllabic improvisation of scat singing. It also suggests that by exploiting the dialectical nature of these forms, Calloway was able to communicate African American issues and experiences without alienating his white audiences or revealing to them the subtle and covert codes of African American identity preservation within white dominated society. Specific song lyrics are analyzed and transcriptions of these songs are provided in an attached appendix.

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Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace