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‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ composer Bob Dorough, 92, brings his hipster bebop to South

'Schoolhouse Rock!' composer Bob Dorough, 92, brings his hipster bebop to South

Thanks to Steve Ramm for the link.

'Schoolhouse Rock!' composer Bob Dorough, 92, brings his hipster bebop to South

Bob Dorough, 92, best-known for his songs for "Schoolhouse Rock!" in the 1970s, brings his bebop chops to South on Wednesday.


For The Inquirer

Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2016, 3:01 AM

Ask any children of the 1970s or '80s how they were first exposed to jazz, and chances are that memory will have a cartoon attached.
At Christmastime, it was Vince Guaraldi's drifting-snow swing behind the Peanutsgang's bittersweet holiday celebrations in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
For the rest of the year, though, it was the sneakily educational, improbably hip songs of Schoolhouse Rock! The short films aired on Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1985 (returning briefly in the '90s), teaching sugar-addled kids about math, grammar, and history through indelibly catchy songs and charming animation.
What those kids didn't realize was most of the series' best-loved songs – among them "Conjunction Junction," "Three Is a Magic Number," and "Electricity, Electricity" – were written and often performed by Bob Dorough, a hipster bebop vocalist who counted Miles Davis and Blossom Dearie among his collaborators. Dorough brought the same wit and playfulness that he employed in his music for adults to his educational tunes.

"I guess you'd say I'm an entertainer in the jazz mode, and even when I sing a love song, I still try to put some kind of joy, emotion, and playfulness into it," Dorough said last week from his home in the Delaware Water Gap region. "Schoolhouse Rock!wasn't that different; I was just thinking that my audience was going to be young people instead of adults."
Those young children having long since grown into adults, but Dorough still slips a Schoolhouse Rock! number or two into his set lists. At 92, he remains the epitome of hip, as he'll showcase with his regular trio at the South Jazz Parlor on Wednesday as part of Orrin Evans' "What's Happening Wednesdays?" series.
Born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, Dorough grew up listening to the swing bands of Harry James, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw on the radio.
From the Plainview Texas High School Band, he served a three-year stint in a Special Services Army Band unit and went on to the University of North Texas, where he first heard the revolutionary sounds of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.
He followed those sounds north in 1949. "As soon as I got my degree, I jumped on the Greyhound bus and went to New York City," Dorough recalled. "It was quite an adventure, believe you me. The town was full of young people from all over the country coming there to learn about the new jazz we called bebop."
While hanging at bop haunts such as Birdland and playing at underground jazz clubs by night, Dorough made a living playing piano for a tap-dance studio. Retired boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson came in to learn a few steps before heading out on a song-and-dance tour and ended up hiring Dorough as his accompanist.
"Sugar Ray had retired from the ring and was going to be in show business," Dorough said with a chuckle. "He had a little act – he did this dance routine that the teacher taught him and told a few jokes and sang a couple of songs. I worked for him for two years and finally he took me to Paris."
When Robinson returned to the States, Dorough stayed behind, taking up a six-month residency at the Mars Club, a cabaret on the Right Bank.
It was there that he met fellow expat Dearie, the winsome singer who went on to be a duet partner and fellow Schoolhouse Rock! vocalist with Dorough in the decades that followed.
Shortly after returning to the U.S. in 1955, Dorough released Devil May Care, his debut album, highlighted by his vocal version of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." The album cover, a portrait of the singer in the bull's-eye of a ring of concentric circles, caught Miles Davis' attention one day in a friend's apartment.

"I always dug Miles and would go to see him in New York City," Dorough said, "but he was a very unapproachable cat. You'd say, 'Hey Miles, I really dug that set!' and he wouldn't stop. He might glance at you, but he didn't say a word. Years later, I was in L.A., and one of my friends related to me that he actually heard my LP when he was in town doing a three-week engagement, so I took her to the club and met him there, and we became kind of pals for a minute."
That led to Dorough's penning the anti-commercialization Christmas song "Blue Xmas" for Davis, which the two performed for a compilation called Jingle Bell Jazzin 1962. Davis also recorded Dorough's song "Nothing Like You" with the singer, along with an instrumental version of the title track from Devil May Care.
In the early 1970s, Dorough was approached by an advertising executive frustrated by his children's inability to memorize multiplication tables – despite knowing every word to songs by Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Dorough composed an album's worth of educational tunes called Multiplication Rock, which became the foundation for Schoolhouse Rock!
"I just stumbled into that gig. We had a captive audience – every Saturday, kids were eating cereal and watching cartoons, and some of them found Schoolhouse Rock!and got stuck on it. If it were up to me, it would last forever, because there's always kids."
Bob Dorough
8 and 9:45 p.m. Wednesday at South Jazz Parlor, 600 N. Broad St.
Tickets: $10.
Information: 215-600-0220 or southrestaurant.net



Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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