This month, legendary jazzman Bob Dorough plays 3 gigs in the UK – two at London’s Pizza Express Club in Dean St on 19th and 20th Feb, and one at Pizza Express Maidstone on 21st Feb. He will be joined on stage by some of the UKs own jazz greats – vocalists Trudy Kerr and Sarah Moule, bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom. In this second feature, Sarah Moule and Trudy Kerr talked to Tamsin Collison about the man and the music they are preparing to celebrate:
LondonJazz News: For those people who don’t know him, who is Bob Dorough?
Sarah Moule: Bob is an internationally-renowned American jazz pianist/arranger/ composer/singer with a lifetime of jazz musicianship and experience to share. He definitely qualifies as Jazz Royalty! These three evenings offer the UK a rare opportunity to catch a true legend, live on stage.
LJN: Where would you place BD in the Jazz Pantheon?
SM: I would place him alongside fellow wordsmiths Dave Frishberg and Fran Landesman. But really he’s out there on his own stylistically as a performer – a one-off. He’s very much a singer’s singer. He’s a clever composer, but it‘s the dexterity, warmth and wit of his lyrics and the musical risks he takes as a performer that singers really respond to. He’s a master of Vocalise, and lots of singers study songs of his such as Up Jumped a Bird when learning that repertoire. Like Blossom Dearie, his unique vocal quality reflects his quirky character.
LJN: What has BD’s influence been on the jazz world?
SM: Many of Bob’s numbers are considered part of the repertoire by the jazz world, e.g. ‘Devil May Care’, ‘I’ve Got Just About Everything’, ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, and ‘Nothing Like You, although he’s not a household name outside the USA in the way that the biggest stars of the Great American Songbook are. But he’s a key part of American culture from the 1970s and 80s, due to ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ – a series of educational videos he wrote which included the famous song ‘Three is the Magic Number’ and which were massively popular for a whole generation of Americans. Like Tom Lehrer, he has used his songwriting skills in the cause of education.
Trudy Kerr: A collection of brilliant songs, which demonstrate his ability to create music and lyrics that are truly unique but steeped in tradition.
LJN: What’s your first memory of encountering BD’s work?
SM: I first discovered Bob’s work in the title song of Claire Martin’s album ‘Devil May Care’. I remember thinking that it sounded like a hard-bop instrumental and not like a Great American Songbook song. I liked the way it had a modern-sounding lyric that sat very comfortably at a fast tempo. Lyrically it’s a great introduction to Bob’s writing style, full of interesting intervals and extended lyrical lines. Like Dave Frishberg, Bob writes genuine jazz songs, as opposed to popular songs which can lend themselves to jazz interpretations.
TK: In 1995, I was living in a house with bebop singer Anita Wardell, and she introduced me to Bob’s music. We used to have Bob Dorough nights and play his album I’ve Got Just About Everything over and over again.
LJN: What’s your favourite BD number and why?
SM: At the moment it’s Love Came On Stealthy Fingers which I’ve been learning for these shows. It’s a beautiful song, both lyric and melody. It’s such an evocative title. He wrote a new verse for it for his Duets album which is wonderfully dark. There’s a bittersweet quality to the lyric too. Like all Bob’s work, it’s very pleasurable to sing, with wonderful harmonic twists and turns and a satisfying story.
TK: Too hard to pick! But I would say the album I’ve Got Just About Everything is my favourite because it was my introduction to his music. On that album, as well as the title track, I really love The Message and the ballad But for Now. Also his interpretation of ‘Tis Autumn.
LJN: Has BD had any direct influence on you as an artist?
SM: I find him inspirational – a constant reminder that singers must have the courage to take risks in their choice of material. I love his musical playfulness and invention. He’s 91 and he’s still gigging all round the world – he’s just come back from Istanbul, and now he’s got these three gigs in the UK. He’s living proof that you’re never too old to have a good time, and that music keeps you young. His gigs are life-enhancing – he brings joy into the room. And he reminds me that audiences want to be made to feel things. His message: Live life to the full!
TK: Yes. I’ve sung so many of his songs. Also, several years ago when we bought him over to the UK for a recording and a series of dates, he stayed at our house and he roasted me at the piano on my feel, phrasing and articulation, delivery of the lyric, musicality – everything, really! – and it has had a profound influence on my singing since then.
LJN: What’s your personal connection with BD – is this the first time you have worked with him?
SM: I first met BD about 13 years ago at Fran Landesman’s house. Bob and I worked together on a gig at the Southbank Centre in 2010 which celebrated Fran’s life and work. He had collaborated with her on songs such as ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, Nothing Like You, The Winds of Heaven, Mount Tipsy and A Little Touch of Harry In The Night. Nothing Like You is the only song to be included on a Miles Davis album (‘Sorcerer’). And I’ve hung out with him in New York and London since then, so we know each other. When I was invited to join him on these UK gigs, I jumped at the chance.
TK: As I mentioned earlier I have been a fan of Bob’s music for some years. I also introduced my husband Geoff Gascoyne to his music. While Geoff was playing in the States with Jamie Cullum, he regularly hung out with Bob in NY. I was very jealous. So I began the task of bringing him over to the UK for a series of dates. We then got Candid Records interested in putting out an album, so Bob recorded Small Day Tomorrow and we toured the UK and I was no longer jealous – I got to sing with my musical hero! More recently Bob guested on my album ‘Déjà vu’ and we duetted on his composition Up Jumped A Bird.
LJN: Who has chosen the playlist for these gigs?
SM: Bob invited Trudy and me to choose any numbers from his repertoire that we fancied doing, and suggested we include a couple from his celebrated Duets album to sing together. He has added his own selections to the list and we’ll be doing a few standards too.
TK: Bob suggested I learn a new tune to sing with him – To Be or Not to Bop. It’s a tricky bebop tune – but I’m up for the challenge!
LJN: What are you most looking forward to about these gigs?
SM: Singing with Bob and Trudy. It’s a very different dynamic to performing a solo gig. I’ll enjoy singing Bob’s crunchy harmonies and having fun with a great group of musicians. It’ll be a bit seat of the pants in places – we’ll be singing some brand new arrangements – but that’s often where the magic happens! We’re all keen to do the best possible job for Bob on the night. Plus, we’re anticipating that a lot of jazzers will be coming to these gigs – and that kind of audience really keeps you on your toes. So, it’s slightly scary but very exciting – just the right combination to spark a really Top Night.
TK: It’s going to be a blast performing with Bob and Sarah and also hearing Bob perform his tunes and entertain the audience in his warm and infectious style.
LJN: Pick three words to sum up Bob Dorough.
SM: Very. Cool. Cat.
TK: Creative. Humorous. Hip.
BOB DOROUGH AND FRIENDS LIVE AT PIZZA EXPRESS Dean St Feb 19th/20th; Maidstone Feb 21st
LINKS: Bob Dorough Interview