The North Arkansas Jazz Society presents the 15th Annual KUAF Summer Jazz Concert Series, with a kickoff event featuring Bebop pianist/vocalist and composer Bob Dorough in concert in Starr Theater at Walton Arts Center on Saturday, July 13, at 8 p.m. Appearing with Dorough will be Drew Packard on bass and Steve Wilkes on drums.
Bob Dorough, born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, immediately fell in love with music upon joining the Plainview Texas High School Band. He served three years in a Special Services Army Band Unit, gaining much professional experience as arranger, clarinetist, saxophonist, pianist and entertainer (1943-45).
After earning a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of North Texas (1949), he made a bee-line for New York City where he took classes at Columbia University and immersed himself in the volatile jazz scene then taking place there – the BeBop revolution. In 1952 he turned his back on the academic scene to devote himself to jazz performance, specializing in piano/vocals. After years of accompanying, conducting, arranging, and playing, he made his first recording as a leader (1956) for the Bethlehem label….DEVIL MAY CARE.
Dorough is known as “the only singer to record with Miles Davis.” While this may not be 100% true, he did record two vocals with Davis, in 1962, “Nothing Like You” and “Blue Xmas,” both of which he composed. Davis also recorded an instrumental version of Bob’s classic song, “Devil May Care,” that same year.
In his lifetime, Dorough has had two fan bases, with some crossover; one, a cult that adores him as a jazz singer/pianist, two, a much larger audience that loved the many songs he created and sang for ABC-TV’s Schoolhouse Rock.
In 1971 he received a commission to “set the multiplication tables to music.” This led to a small industry, being the beginning of ABC-TV’s SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, Saturday morning cartoons that entertained and instructed unsuspecting children during the years 1973-1985. The impact of this media exposure was unpredictably immense. The show came back for another five years in the 90’s and is now enjoying its 30th anniversary with a DVD edition of the entire, five-subject series, for which Dorough worked as the Musical Director. On a gig, Dorough is just as likely to get requests for “Three is a Magic Number” or “Conjunction Junction” as he is for “Baltimore Oriole” or “I’m Hip.”
In 1995 Bob signed a contract with the prestigious jazz label – Blue Note Records – and has done three CDs for them (“Right On My Way Home,” “Too Much Coffee Man” and “Who‘s On First”).
In 1979 Scott Albin wrote a review of a Dorough concert for Down Beat Magazine: “As always, Dorough sang songs with meaningful, sophisticated or witty lyrics, and interpreted them in his one-of-a-kind, nonpareil manner. His voice is not powerful, but he is a totally relaxed, uninhibited vocalist. He would repeat words using entirely different shadings, slide into falsetto or bluesy, coarse-to-syrupy timbres, and scat boisterously, all giving the impression that he was treating each lyric and melody as if he had written them himself, whether he had or not. His long piano improvisations were craftily structured, subtly intricate, and as deeply expressive as his singing. His bop-based piano playing had a sprightliness, abandon and unpredictability that hooked the listener almost instantly.” These words rings equally true today.
Now residing in Pennsylvania, he has received honors from that state (the Governor’s Artist of the Year Award) and from his native state (the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame.) In 2002 his trio was chosen to represent the State Department and Kennedy Center, as an Ambassador of Jazz and Blues. The one-month tour saw them play some 22 workshops and concerts in thirteen cities in six different countries. Dorough will turn 90 this December and is currently recording on Arbors, Candid and his own label, and continues to perform, often for children, in Jazz Clubs and Schools, wherever he can.
Tickets are available online at www.digjazz.com/summer-concert/ or call Walton Arts Center box office at 479-443-5600.