TRIBUTE: Sarah Moule and Simon Wallace remember Bob Dorough (In Memoriam evening at Pizza Express Dean St 5 June)

Bob Dorough, Simon Wallace and Sarah Moule
Photo supplied

BOB DOROUGH (1923-2018) passed away on 23 April at his home in Pennsylvania at the age of 94. Most widely known for his role in the television series Schoolhouse Rock from 1973 to 1985, he was a singer, songwriter and pianist who had enduring partnerships with both Dave Frishberg and Blossom Dearie. He was enlisted by Miles Davis for Blue Xmas and Nothing Like You in the early ’60s. 

Two musicians in the UK, Sarah Moule and Simon Wallace, became good friends with Bob Dorough, and remember him in these two tributes. Pizza Express Dean Street will be hosting an evening in his memory on 5 June.

Sarah Moule

I was introduced to Bob Dorough by Fran Landesman in the late 1990s. What really struck me was his incredible enthusiasm for life, something which permeates his music, shining through in the love song to his wife Wake Up Sally It’s A Saturday. Bob and Fran had been friends since her first song-writing partner Tommy Wolf brought him to St Louis to play the lead in their new musical A Walk on the Wild Side. Set in a New Orleans whorehouse it involved sex, death and suicide and was somewhat ahead of its time for a 1960 St Louis audience. Bob’s comment on it was, “I always say it was typecasting, I played an ignorant teenager from Texas”.

Whatever Bob was involved in, whether acting, song-writing, arranging or producing, he was always meticulous in his preparation. At the launch of his 2006 Candid Records release Small Day Tomorrow we met him outside the Pizza Express Jazz Club anxiously pacing up and down while memorising the lyric for Landesman & Wallace’s Feet Do Your Stuff. Fran would be in the audience and he didn’t want to make any mistakes. Having been in that position many times myself I knew exactly how he felt.

His energy was Herculean. In 2007 Simon and I saw him at his regular Sunday lunchtime residency in New York, the back room of an Irish pub on the Upper East Side, which entailed a roundtrip of about 200 miles. The gig ended with his devoted audience joyously singing along to Devil May Care.

In 2015 Bob, at 92, was still crackling with energy when Joe Paice brought him over to the UK. Singer Trudy Kerr and I were inducted into the Bobettes for the tour with Geoff Gascoyne on bass and Seb de Krom on drums. On the first night we were having dinner and Bob asked for just a Campari and a tiramisu. I asked if he always had that before gigs, he replied, “Nope, I just never tried it before”.

Bob had high standards and had sent Trudy and me reams of tricky harmonies to learn, hand-written in his spidery script. We worked on them diligently as there would be only one rehearsal and neither of us wanted to get ‘the look’ for messing up. Before the final concert Bob wrote a brand new lyric overnight which we learnt in the car on the way to the gig. The day before he flew home we invited him and the band round for dinner. He arrived unfeasibly early and we filmed four songs before we sat down to eat.

We first shared a stage in 2010 at the Purcell Room for A Night Out With Fran Landesman and the last time we worked together was in 2017 at Pizza Express Jazz Club and The Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking. On that last London gig Trudy and I rashly volunteered to do his most famous song, Three Is A Magic Number, without a rehearsal. We were not completely prepared mathematically speaking (Bob was big on maths) and only just managed to stumble backwards through our times tables at speed in song to the audience’s obvious amusement. It was always such a joy to hang out and a genuine thrill to perform with him.

Bob Dorough and Simon Wallace
Photo supplied

Simon Wallace:

I first met Bob Dorough in the mid 1990s in the early years of my songwriting partnership with Fran Landesman. I was summoned to the Landesman residence in Duncan Terrace N1 and rang the door bell with some trepidation. Bob and Fran had been writing songs together since 1960, Small Day Tomorrow was a jazz standard, Nothing Like You featured on the Miles Davis Sorcerer album and I had no idea how Bob felt about sharing his lyricist with a British upstart not much more than half his age. I walked in, Bob took a quick look at me and shouted “Partner!” before grabbing me in a bear hug. Over the next 20 years I learnt that his enthusiasm for music, people and above all life was boundless, every gig was an adventure, every chance to make music was seized with both hands.

His energy levels constantly defied his years. In 2003 Fran, Bob, Jackie Cain and I did four shows in New York over one weekend. Bob had been gigging in Los Angeles with Dave Frishberg and arrived at Nola studios for the rehearsal straight from the airport before dashing home to Pennsylvania for a clean shirt and then back the next day for two shows at Joe’s Pub. Between shows he had a limo booked to take him to another gig uptown delivering him back 90 minutes later in time for the second house. At the end of the night the party in the dressing room only ended when the bouncers turfed everybody out – the average age of the badly behaved revellers was around 78.

In 2010 he took part in A Night Out with Fran Landesman at the Purcell Room in London. A few nights before we’d both been doing gigs in New York but hadn’t managed to hook up except by phone. Back in London I arrived at the Southbank for a 3pm set-up somewhat the worse for wear from the previous day’s jet lag to find Bob sitting on the stage in a fishing hat with a pint of Guinness in his hand. “I thought I’d get here early,” he said. After the concert the show spilled over into the foyer – inevitably it was Bob playing the piano when the security guards finally closed down proceedings so they could lock up.

As well as being a great performer and songwriter Bob was a brilliant and imaginative arranger. In 2006 he recorded the album Small Day Tomorrow, a tribute to Fran Landesman. With typical generosity half the album was given over to songs Fran had written with other composers. It was a tremendous thrill to hear music I’d written being given a Dorough makeover, dissected and put back together in an intricate new arrangement.

In 2017 Bob and I did a night at the Steinway 2-Piano Festival at The Pizza Express Jazz Club, the gig was great but the rehearsal was pretty special too. Time spent with Bob was always joyful and life enhancing but for me it doesn’t get much better than an afternoon round a piano working through the ins and outs of A Night In Tunisia and Hot House with someone who jammed with Charlie Parker and recorded with Miles Davis. Bob was the ‘real deal’ and a hundred other cliches, most of all he was a warmhearted, generous, joyous human being.


Bob Dorough with Fran and Jay Landesman (video)

 In Memoriam – The Bob Dorough Songbook
With Ian Shaw, Sarah Moule, Trudy Kerr, Simon Wallace, Geoff Gascoyne and Sebastiaan De Krom

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