Sunday, June 5, 2016



I have interviewed and even yarned with many famous people. Then when they move on to solve the great mystery of whether there is a heaven or a hell, I watch this flutter of journalists who try to create out of one interview or a few hours some relationship with the departed.
Why can't they just settle for an account of how these leaders in their fields impacted our country or the world?
Then there are those forgotten by time. Even if they die in the saddle, so to speak, they may have influenced or entertained hundreds of thousands,  but now they pass from the stage with only a few trumpeting farewell.
I can tell the story of how Nelson Mandela nicknamed me the Canadian who hit so hard, or when Yitzhak Rabin warned me about radicals in the cabinet room just weeks before one assassinated him, but they were just flashes of encounters over the decades and mean only that I did get to talk to a lot of people who were world greats.
And then there were the jerks who acted like they were.
Actually my theory based on many encounters with obese egos is the greater the person, the easier  to talk to. It's the petty chiefs, the bureaucrats on the make, who are more trouble than they're worth.
But today I talk about those durable performers with fame rooted in longevity. They created for us over the decades until their names became embedded  into the corners of your memory. You may not have thought about them for years but they were really around from childhood until the anecdotage when most have forgotten and the young just don't give a damn.
Like Howard Cable.
There was just one encounter. I was CNE president and had urged our reluctant entertainment staff to have a military tattoo. There was a reception first for the military brass, because it was important to get the co-operation of our defence department or the Ex would have had to pay for every last drummer.
And there I was introduced to an old man by someone who really didn't know who Cable was and suspected that I would be clueless too.
I pumped Cable's hand and said to me he was the most famous name in music. The legend of military music and Broadway shows and revues!
I had grown up listening to his music on the CBC when going to live radio broadcasts were still the in thing to do.  I would do the TTC trek to a studio just off Yonge where Wayne and Shuster performed on Thursday nights with Herb May booming into the mike. There was the Happy Gang every noon, with an audience generally of Ryerson students and a few tourists. But whatever the location and the time, most of the music I was hearing had been touched by the baton and pen of Howard Cable.
 And of course during the Ex the Grandstand show, with music supervised by Cable, was one of the biggest acts in Canada. Naturally he directed onsite entertainment when Expo 67 was the biggest and most innovative show in the world.
He was a stalwart of early TV in New York and in Toronto. He arranged and directed the music for countless National Film Board productions when the NFB was considered a national treasure. Many a Canadian revue or musical featured his music. High school music teachers used his scores.
He was so prolific and so great that of course he was still composing at 95 when he died this March on a day he was to scheduled to attend a recording session.
I chatted with him that one night about how he had grown up in Parkdale and loved to walk down to the Palais Royale to listen live to the Dorseys and one of the Herds of Woody, music that you hear now every Sunday night on 91.1, our jazz station which is smart enough to have Glen Woodcock as host of his Big Band show for 40 years.
Why Woodcock, the Toronto Sun's retired associate editor, almost goes back to the horse and buggy days and cream floating on top of delivered milk about which Howard Cable used to reminisce so often.
So I met Cable only once, but I listened to him for decades. And so did you if you have survived a few decades or so, even if you now forget his name.


Unknown said...

I like your post, Mr. Downing!
In my opinion, Howard Cable was the most underappreciated music icon in Canadian history. He was the real deal. No matter how much time passes, many of us will NEVER forget his name.
Thank you for writing this very fine article.

Lori Fox Rossi
(Manager - Howard Cable music)

Allison said...

That is a really nice article! Thank you putting into words what those of us who only met Howard fleetingly experienced albeit perhaps in different circumstances. Wellington Wind Symphony has a good collection of Howard's pieces in our library and was fortunate to have Howard as a guest conductor over the years. He is featured In some of our videos on YouTube and I believe on our DVDs. The words a true gentleman come to mind.