Welcome to the world of Bob Dorough, the oldest living hipster in jazz at age 81 (December 14, 2004). The singer/composer/pianist has been recording since 1956 and (except for a brief flurry of attention with his compositions written for ABC-TV's Schoolhouse Rock from 1973-1985) he has remained largely unappreciated. When I first heard Dorough's vocal of Charlie Parker's “Yardbird Suite” on his debut Bethlehem album Devil May Care, it was a burst of energy and long-needed thank you to Bird for his musical contribution. When I first saw Dorough perform in late 1963, he opened for Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard in duet with bassist Bill Takas and seemed an anachronism more typical of the bohemian jazzman of the late 50s. However, over the decades Dorough has endured and thrived artistically. He has also become something of a cult figure in the Cabaret genre per his performances and his own compositions or those co-written with such esteemed musicians as Fran Landesman, Blossom Dearie and Dave Frishberg. I enjoyed his live album with Dave Frishberg, Who's On First (Blue Note, 2000), although Dorough's tunes and piano were not quite as witty and prolific as Frishberg's.
All that being said, it is a pleasure to hear this live performance at Manhattan's midtown jazz club, Iridium, where Bob Dorough and his friends entertain on most Sunday afternoons. Over the years, Dorough's voice has deepened and a bit of the Arkansas twang has lessened. Also, Dorough serves as a most affable host and provides well chosen and witty words to describe the music. Approximately 6 of the 21 tracks are brief spoken word opportunities. Dorough's group is a lively and swinging combo with Steve Gilmore on bass (normally with Phil Woods) the only known player. Veteran NYC trumpet man and recording artist Joe Wilder sits in on “Sunday” and “Ain't No Spoofin'” adding some good musical punch to the tunes. The latter is a Leroy Vinnegar melody and the title reflects one of the bassist's favorite expressions. Singer Daryl Sherman also shows up to duet and joins Dorough in a four-handed piano setting on “Without Rhyme or Reason.” There is a reciprocal duet between the two on Sherman's latest album A Hundred Million Miracles (Arbors Records, 2004). There is also vocal assistance for the Bobettes (not to be confused with the late 1950s doo-wop femme group) who provide vocal backup on Dorough's pop hit “Comin' Home Baby” later popularized by Herbie Mann and Mel Torme. They also sing on “Electricity, Electricity.”
The songs on this album are largely Dorough originals with a few exceptions. In addition to the aforementioned “Sunday,” Dorough closes with a poignant version of the Laine/Fischer standard “We'll Be Together Again” and features new lyrics to the Sonny Rollins-associated “St.Thomas” which is here retitled “Down St. Thomas Way.” Bob Dorough's forte is his ability to compose incisive lounge songs in the style of the tunes popularized by the Nat King Cole Trio. In fact, when he performs Bobby Troup's “You're Looking At Me” on this album, the blend is perfect. Songs like “You're the Dangerous Type,” “But For Now” and “Baby Used to Be” share, along with the work of Dave Frishberg, a treasure trove for singers and musicians for decades to come.
The resulting album is greatly enhanced by the musicians. Steve Berger on guitar adds some lovely and swinging solo work in the manner of Russell Malone, and demonstrates a lyrical sense. Drummer Ed Ornowski provides just the right shading for percussion. All in all, this is a relaxed and fun session!
by Michael P. Gladstone