In the controversial movie "The Cotton Club," one scene depicts band leader Cab Calloway as the magnetic and elegant musician that he has been over the last six decades.
And while the film by Francis Coppola may have used his name, the creators didn't use his or the era's real history.
"It was a movie -- that's all I can say about it. They made it the way they wanted to make it. They portrayed what they wanted to portray. It was just a movie and it was a good movie," says Calloway.
He says the word "movie" in a flat, noncommittal way, adding at one point in a conversation here this week, "It's a picture. It could be the seven dwarfs and it wouldn't make any difference. It is just a picture." Underneath the neutrality is a tremor of disgruntlement. He has seen the movie five times, mainly at celebrity opening nights, and has been curt in all his assessments. "They were looking to make a few million dollars out of it, as far as I can see. I don't think it was done for any cultural purpose or any other purpose but commercial," he says.
And Calloway is one of the giants. He knew the scene of black and white entertainers, businessmen and racketeers in the Harlem of the 1930s that the Coppola film uses as a setting for a story of romance and crime.
"The Cotton Club story hasn't been told," he says, emphatically. "The picture wasn't about the Cotton Club; the picture was a gangster picture." And his mammoth laugh tells how simplistic and unfortunate was the result, in his view.
Other black performers who danced and played at the landmark nightspot have spoken out about the film's emphasis on the underworld, the focus on a white musician played by Richard Gere, its timidness at exploring how the black talent influenced the times, and the oversimplification of the characters in what was a complex racial situation.
But Calloway is not going to be drawn into the debate. Asked about a scene where the white owner physically threatens the character played by Gregory Hines, Calloway says, "That was all wrong. The part where they abused the performers, that never happened."
Calloway has been performing for six decades, years that might show on the girth of the 77-year-old legend, but not in his spirit.
The Calloway calendar is booked 30 to 40 weeks a year. "Much as I want to, put it that way," he says of his engagements, which span symphonies to clubs.
Last summer he organized a band for three weeks of appearances on the West Coast. On Sunday he was dancing with the Rockettes in New York for the "Night of 100 Stars." The next day he arrived in Washington for his appearances through tonight at Charlie's. In addition, he made some auxiliary appearances at schools. And, as is his off-stage habit, he spent some time at the racetrack, winning.
The active roster of his generation of entertainers, including Lena Horne and Lionel Hampton, still has a huge cross-generational following. He doesn't have to reshape his shows for the youngsters. "No, I don't change. You see, I have done it all. My reputation has carried me over 60 years," he says.
A link between the ages of jazz, swing and good sound, Calloway has made his mark in several media. His songs "Minnie the Moocher" and "The Reefer Man" are classics, and he invented an unforgettable phrase -- "Hi-de-ho" -- one night when he forget the lines to "Minnie." In 1943 he appeared in the musical "Stormy Weather" and in the 1950s sang the role of Sportin' Life, a part he had inspired, in a revival of "Porgy and Bess"; he later appeared on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly!"
So a discussion of reviving art forms, such as tap dancing, of which he was a master, is alien to him. "It has always been. People have been tap dancing for 100 years. It started out with the jig," he says.
Leaning back in a wing chair and deliberately counting off the dozens of symphonies he has performed "St. James Infirmary" with, he says he can't describe the fount of the energy that keeps people calling his performances electrifying. And it is all natural. "If I have to force it, I don't do it. I have never gotten to the point where I have to force it," he says.