Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Dorough, Bob (Robert Lrod)

Bob Dorough's light and amiable vocals, with a slight Arkansas twang, come across as those of a hip and uninhibited hillbilly. He personalizes everything he sings in an unaffected, natural manner. Dorough is a fine pianist and composer with a spirited, bop-based style. He also has a devoted fan base outside of jazz: generations of American children know him for the perennially popular "Schoolhouse Rock" animations he created for ABC-TV.

Robert Lrod Dorough was born on Dec. 12, 1923 in Cherry Hill, Arkansas. His family moved to Plainview, Texas, where he discovered jazz while playing clarinet in the high school band. As a freshman at Texas Tech in Lubbock, he studied arranging and conducting, but was drafted in 1942 and joined an Army band primarily as a saxophonist and pianist. He attended North Texas State Teachers College, which later became the first school in the U.S. with a jazz curriculum, from 1946-1949, concentrating on composition and piano.

Although his earliest influences vocally were singer-musicians such as Nat Cole, Joe Mooney, and Louis Armstrong, Upon hearing Babs Gonzales, Dorough was inspired to try his hand at scat and vocalese. Relocating to New York in 1949, he attended Columbia University from 1949-1952, during which time he hosted jam sessions at his walk-up cold water flat on E. 75th Street, attended by Pepper Adams, Thad and Elvin Jones, and many others. He then traveled the world as musical director for boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's "The Champ" song and dance revue, before going out on his own in Paris in 1954, where he performed for five months at the Mars Club, polishing his singing style, and also working with with Maya Angelou. He recorded with flutist Sam Most in 1953 and again in 1956), and also with singer Blossom Dearie and her Blue Stars vocal group.

Returning to New York, Dorough got to record his first album as leader in 1956, Devil May Care. On the title track, Dorough's adamant vocal and lively piano interlude paint a vivid picture of the hectic lifestyle he experienced in New York, in both its lyrics and musical intensity.

The album also included Dorough's first recording of Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole," a tune he has always given an unsurpassed interpretation. Also introduced was his version of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." The lyrics he wrote are a heartfelt tribute to the then-recently deceased Bird. For the same Bethlehem label that year, Dorough performed as Crab Man on an ambitious production of "Porgy and Bess" which also featured Mel Tormé, Johnny Hartman, and Duke Ellington.

From 1958 to 1961, Dorough lived in Los Angeles, where he met and sat in with Miles Davis, who liked the singer's "Baltimore Oriole" and who would later record an instrumental treatment of "Devil May Care." In 1962 Dorough recorded two vocals with Davis's group, his own cynical Christmas song "Blue Xmas," and his collaboration with lyricist Fran Landesman--a frequent partner--titled "Nothing Like You," which appeared on Miles's 1967 Sorcerer album. Dorough would record "Nothing Like You" again in 1976 as a riveting duet with bassist Bill Takas, who performed internationally with Dorough for over 40 years. Also in 1962, Dorough and bassist Ben Tucker wrote the seductive "Comin' Home Baby," which became a hit for Mel Tormé.

Dorough recorded Excursion Through Songs from the Hit Show Oliver! in 1963, strictly instrumental, and featuring Clark Terry and Tyree Glenn. In 1966 Just About Everything appeared, with perhaps an even better rendition of "Baltimore Oriole," enhanced as always by Dorough's soft, pliable voice, clear articulation, rhythmic flexibility, and sincere emotion.

For a period of time Dorough gravitated to studio work and wrote advertising jingles, and even produced the folk-rock group Spanky & Our Gang and assisted folk singer Chad Mitchell. Then in 1973 he was hired as musical director for Schoolhouse Rock, a series of three-minute educational cartoons shown Saturday mornings on ABC-TV, which ran until 1985 and were rerun in the 1990s. His fellow participants included Blossom Dearie, Dave Frishberg,and Jack Sheldon. Dorough's specialty was Multiplication Rock, and an example of his endearing and effective approach can be heard on the track "Three is a Magic Number." A new DVD release of Schoolhouse Rock is in the works, with new material by Dorough.

Dorough participated in two Hal Wilner produced projects. In 1984 he scatted a playful duet version of "Friday the Thirteenth" with Bobby McFerrin on the Thelonious Monk tribute album That's the Way I Feel Now, and in 1994 he joined other vocalists for the Jazz Passengers provocative In Love session, singing his own foreboding lyrics to Bill Ware's "Ring the Bell" in a slyly soothing fashion.

Memorial Charlie Parker was compiled from European concerts in 1983 and 1985, but wasn't released until 1995. It's Dorough and Takas alone, except for altoist Phil Woods sitting in enthusiatically on "Au Privave." Dorough was also recorded live in Spain in 1987, with Art Farmer on flugelhorn, released as Songs of Love. Their wonderfully compatible approaches can be savored on the standard "The End of a Love Affair." Farmer's eloquence seems to inspire Dorough to some of his most stimulating vocals and piano work on record.

At the age of 73, Dorough was granted his one and only major label contract by Blue Note, resulting in three CDs. On the first in 1997, Right On My Way Home, Dorough revived "I Get the Neck of the Chicken," an amusing tune he first introduced in 1942. His high, befuddled delivery is a perfect fit for this unlikely tale of found love, as is his boppish piano solo. Both Joe Lovano and Christian McBride contribute forceful improvisations as well.

For the Too Much Coffee Man CD, Dorough recorded a new version of one of his best known compositions, "I've Got Just About Everything," what he calls "a really hip love song with a kind of jazz feel." He sings the lyrics with his usual easeful sense of time. Guitarist Joe Cohn and Woods both solo exuberantly over the appealing changes.

On the last Blue Note, Who's On First?, Dorough recorded for the first time with his old friend, singer/pianist/composer Dave Frishberg. Naturally they sang and played their only co-written composition, the classic hipster's tongue-in-cheek testimonial "I'm Hip." This is an unbeatable and quite hilarious treatment before a live and very appreciative audience.

In 2002, Dorough embarked on a seven-country State Department tour of Latin America, before returning to begin a long-running Sunday brunch gig at New York's Iridium jazz club, that was fortunately documented by his Sunday at Iridium release in 2004. On it he rewardingly revisits "Comin' Home Baby," complete with the charming vocal support of his two-girl Bobettes.

As he had done in the 1970s when he self-produced the Beginning to See the Light album for his own Laissez-Faire label, in 2005 Dorough formed DeeBees Records to release The Houston Branch, recorded in Houston, Texas. It features his daughter, Aralee, on flute, and her husband Colin Gatwood on oboe, both of whom are members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Dorough does only two vocals, but did all of the arrangements on this jazz-meets-classical outing.

Dorough traveled to England in 2005 for some live dates as well as a recording session. Small Day Tomorrow is significant in that the entire 12-tune program consists of memorable compositions by Dorough and/or his longtime writing partner Landesman, including the title cut, "Marilyn, Queen of Lies," and "Nothing Like You," as well as Landesman's well-known "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men." This CD finds Dorough at his assured and communicative best.

Dorough has lived in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania since 1966, where he has counted a number of other jazz musicians as neighbors, including Woods, Urbie Green, and Dave Liebman, with the nearby Deer Head Inn serving a focal point for a local jazz scene that has even sprouted the occasional jazz festival in that Delaware Water Gap region. Dorough was named Pennsylvania's Artist of the Year in 2002, and has taught music at East Stroudsberg University.

SELECT DISCOGRAPHY

As Leader

Devil May Care (1956 Bethlehem)

Just About Everything (1966 Evidence)

Beginning to See the Light (1976 Laissez-Faire)

Songs Of Love (1987 Orange Blue)

Memorial Charlie Parker (1995 Philology)

Right On My Way Home (1997 Blue Note)

Too Much Coffee Man (2000 Blue Note)

Who's On First? (2000 Blue Note)

Sunday at Iridium (2004 Arbors)

The Houston Branch (2005 DeeBees)

Small Day Tomorrow (2006 Candid)

Various Artists

Bob Dorough & Sam Most Quartet: The Complete Recordings (1953 & 1956, Lonehill compilation 2004)

Sorcerer (Miles Davis, 1967 Columbia)

The Best of Schoolhouse Rock (1998 Kid Rhino compilation)

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984, A & M LP only, Dorough not on the CD)

In Love (Jazz Passengers, 1994 Highstreet)

Hoagy's Children, Vol. 1 (1982 Audiophile, reissued 1994)

Hoagy's Children, Vol. 2 (1983 Audiophile, reissued 1994)

Stardust Melody: Beloved and Rare Songs of Hoagy Carmichael (2002 Challenge)

Contributor: Scott Albin

Related Links

The Dozens: Essential Bob Dorough by Scott Albin