Bob Dorough… Back to Schoolhouse Rocks! (and more) Rocks the Iridium

By MARILYN LESTER****Bob Dorough, born in 1923, is much more than a jazz pianist, singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. Dorough is a living history of jazz, having come on the scene when the genre was in its early days. Grounded in the swing music of his youth, Dorough became a proponent of bebop, combining the two styles into what he calls his “milieu.” He’s an academically trained musician who also has the gift of a strong visceral connection to jazz. His musicality, especially a finely attuned sense of timing, phrasing and rhythm, coupled with a natural ability to inhabit and be at one with a number, was apparent from the outset with the opener, Nat King Cole’s 1943 jazz standard “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Dorough’s delivery of the lyric, which he called a “modern fable,” was playful, as was his piano arrangement of the classic. In the groove with him were guitarist Steve Berger, and bass player Paul Rostock, his longtime sidemen. The two complement Dorough perfectly as he moves through inspired improvisations and clever musical ideas both vocally and on the piano. The trio’s work with “Alone Together” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz) was likewise in the pocket.

Dorough is often amusing, and thoroughly charming, with a million-dollar smile. He’s got a natural grace about him, and a genuine love of his audience. He’s responsible for educating many of them, who learned math, grammar and civics through his work with “Schoolhouse Rock!,” an animated TV series running intermittently in the 1970-80s and 1990s. It was fun-learning time again with audience participation on the number that started it all, his masterwork, “Three Is a Magic Number” (for the predecessor set of songs, “Multiplication Rock”) as well as Lynn Ahren’s sweet “A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing” and Dave Frishberg’s immensely clever “I’m Just a Bill,” with vocal participation by Berger.

As a composer, Dorough, literate and often witty, has added works to the American Songbook. “I Want to Prove I Love You,” performed up-tempo, leaned more toward swing, while the song he recorded with Miles Davis, “Nothing Like You” was executed with vocal and musical bebop phrasing. Dorough’s voice quality in his prime was much like Blossom Dearie’s (with whom he worked), a unique vocalese style, strong on scatting. Influenced by the country music of his native south, that style also includes falsetto jumps on high notes, landing back to the lower registers with forward thrust. Some of the ease and flexibility of youth is still present, but more-so, Dorough’s delivery now is a bebop-fueled parlando. For a magnificent close, “visiting fireman,” trumpeter Larry Brown, sat in for Dorough’s most well-known work, “Devil May Care.” Both Brown and Dorough sang and scatted, with an improvised scat call-and-response segment that defined in its creativity what jazz is all about. Thus ended a very special evening with a true jazz legend.

The show was seen at The Iridium, 1650 Broadway, NYC, September 17 at 5 PM and 7:30 PM, presented by ScoBar Entertainment, part o a series curated by Vicki Burns.