Music legend constantly on the move

Howard Cable posses alongside his bust and artist Pat Brennen
Howard Cable posses alongside his bust and artist Pat Brennen (Peder Myhr)

Howard Cable is having a hard time sitting still. For the past eight Sundays he has been confined to the studio of his friend and sculptor Pat Brennan as she sculpts a bust of his famous head.

“He was an easy subject,” she said. “I mean look at that smile. He’s so charming.”

At 93, the world-renowned conductor, arranger and composer doesn’t attribute his success to charm or sitting in one place. “Being in the right place at the right time. That’s the secret,” Cable said. “But, of course, a love of the music first.”

As a teenager, Cable’s natural talent afforded him a full scholarship to The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. A long career at the CBC followed, working with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, even a young Jim Carrey.

Rick Phillips, former CBC radio host of “Sound Advice,” recognized that Cable has also played and important role nurturing indigenous music. “What makes Howard important to Canadian music is that he made it Canadian,” he said. “Howard was instrumental in getting Canadian artists established in Canada.”

It was on Cable’s show “Canadian Cavalcade” that a young pianist Oscar Peterson made his first radio appearance, and a year later, legendary jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.

“Oh, it’s a real thrill when you see someone you know is special. A little bell goes off in my head,” Cable said. When Cable appeared on CBC TV’s “General Electric’s Showtime,” he auditioned new singers. Cable remembers a handsome kid from Edmonton showing up full of swagger. “His name was Robert Goulet,” Cable said. “And, man, did I hear those bells when he started singing.”

Cable was awarded the Order of Canada in 1999, a moment Cable says was a ‘real honour,’ but hearing those bells ringing in his head keeps him motivated.

Two years ago, Cable organized a concert series; he came across a 21-year-old singer named Michael Vanhevel. “When I heard his voice I called up the producer of the show and told him to sign him immediately,” Cable said. “It was the first time I had heard a voice like that since I saw Robert Goulet.”

Cable then arranged and conducted “The Legends of the Big Band Era,” a concert series with Vanhevel throughout Ontario and the East Coast. The two have just started a new set of shows, “The Swingin’ Sixties: The Best of the Crooners.”

Back at Pat Brennan’s apartment, Cable admired the new sculpture, but seemed restless. “I should be getting on,” he said rising from his chair. “I’ve got to get back to work.” Cable is working on a new composition, a march. “You’ve got to keep moving. That’s the real trick,” Cable said. As he made his way to the door, he glanced at the sculpture and smiled.