On Bob Dorough...


Last Friday night, I got to hang out with a man who is, and I don't think I'm overstating this, a hero. Jazz fans will know that I'm talking about the iconic songwriter, bebop singer and piano player who blew onto the scene 50 years ago with his 1956 recording, the legendary "Devil May Care". Those of you not familiar with bebop singers or recordings released in 1956 will know Dorough as one of the key singers and songwriters responsible for Schoolhouse Rock. What little math skills I possess I'm sure I owe to ABC Saturday morning cartoons and Bob Dorough and friends. I know I'm not alone!

When the Robeau and I arrived at the Varley Gallery in Unionville that night I wasn't sure what to expect. The event was a fundraiser for the Markham Jazz Fest where we were encouraged to enjoy the gallery, wine and hors deurves and later the entertainment, from none other than Bob Dorough. It all seemed a little too good to be true. Why was this incredible artist coming all the way to Canada for one night only to play a fundraiser for a small fest outside of Toronto? On our way into the gallery I heard a pair of hands clap behind me. "Let's check out this aaarrrttt!". There was no mistaking him for anyone else. It was Bob Dorough. And the next thing I knew we were checking out the art together. I told him about the Group of Seven he told us that he came to Markham "because that kid Josh asked". That kid is Josh Grossman, Artistic Director of the Markham Fest and the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and he deserves major kudos for spearheading such a great event. Dorough was immediately engaged in our conversation, asking our names and remembering them later that night. He was as witty and charming as you would expect. He was a complete delight in every way and I have to say, about twenty years younger looking than his 83 years.

Yep. That's Bob Dorough and that's me right next to him. That's as cool as I'll ever be. It's truly all downhill from here, cool-wise.

After mingling with the intimate little crowd for a good long while Dorough sat down to play his first set. He opened with the arrangement of "Moon River" that he recorded on his 1997 effort "Right on my way Home"

Hearing him play and sing "Moon River" live proved what I have always felt - that Dorough is not just a great musician, but also a great actor. His "Moon River" is just dripping in irony - and not the easy kind. He's not saying "listen to that silly lyric" he's emodying a character, someone who's been so hurt, so wronged, so humiliated that the fact he would even utter the romantic Mercer lyrics is a little absurd.

He followed with his first hit and probably most covered tune "Devil May Care" from the 1956 record of the same name. It was a sloppy, loose rendition where he pounded away at the piano and didn't care if the mic was picking up his voice or not. It captured the intention of the lyric perfectly...and what fun!

A few tunes later Dorough took a break and mingled again with the crowd. More chit chat, more wine. I was beginning to feel like I was at a party at his house.

The second set included captivating performances of Charlie Parker's "Yarbird Suite" (with his own lyric), "Right on my way Home" and a stunningly beautiful "Baltimore Oriole". He told stories about Miles Davis (he is one of only three singers to ever record with Davis), his own beloved Mother and his Schoolhouse Rock days. He closed the show with "Figure 8" which he wrote for Blossom Dearie to perform on Schoolhouse Rock. Appropriate because when I think of Dorough I always think of Blossom Dearie and Dave Frishberg. They are, in my mind the great bearers of wit, humour and cool. They're like the hippest triumvirate there is. Dorough's version of "Figure 8" was wistful, whimsical and little weird. In short: perfection.

We chatted again after the show and eventually he walked us over to the door, thanked us for coming and sent us right on our way home.

Bob Dorough gave a master class that night in musicianship, storytelling and how to be a really nice guy. I'll never forget it.


Bob Dorough's official site has lots of great stories, pics and videos.

"Figure 8" as sung by Blossom Dearie on Schoolhouse Rock:

1 comment :

  1. I like the yellow tail shiraz as well, but some of the Niagara based wines can be quite respectable, as well...



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