the loud bassoon concert scene

Bob Dorough @ Chicago Cultural Center Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago, USA
20 January 1999

I can't say enough what a true pleasure it was to catch Bob Dorough in a rare Chicago appearance at the Cultural Center – a free show, no less! Accompanied by bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charlie Braugham (the three had never played together before this gig), Dorough gave a perfect audience-friendly show: all the songs you want to hear, none of the ones you don't, and a few great surprises.

In person, Dorough is as charming as you'd picture him, gregarious and self-aware, a veteran musician who knows how to bring down the house. About two hundred or so people showed up for the show, which was sponsored dually by the CCC and the Guild Complex. Dorough showed up in suit coat and ponytail, remarked at being "for the first time, outdressed by a drummer," and launched into a set that was enjoyable from start to finish.

I'd gotten there early and had a seat in the front row just diagonal from Dorough's piano, and it made me think of just how much better jazz shows are to experience than rock shows – no standing, no crowd noise, and better still, musicians who can play.

Who'd have thought that forty years into the rock era, journalists would come full circle and once again decry rock for being incomprehensible noise? Well, bring me melody and harmony, brother, 'cause I'm all for jazz.

Dorough kicked the evening off with a couple of standards ("I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "Moon River") done up in his quirky style with ad-libbed vocals and crazy falsetto here and there. Set the mood perfectly. He followed up with the title cut from his 1997 Blue Note album Right on My Way Home and the tune he cut with Miles Davis that gave him a bit of unintentional fame in the 60s, "Nothing Like You," the latter given a real jazz workout stretching it to about five times its original length (of a minute and a half).

For the people who came to see him based on his "Schoolhouse Rock" connection, these songs gave a very good representation of what "else" he's done. Very enjoyable and uplifting.

The band was amazingly tight for having only rehearsed together briefly, and only missed a couple cues throughout the night. Gray was outstandingly solid, and Braugham was delightful, looking like a crazy old science teacher sitting behind the skins.

Next up was a trio of Dorough's jazz history songs: "Yancey" (a rarely-performed tune about Chicago blues legend Jimmy Yancey that he dusted off for his appreciative Chicago audience), "Something For Sidney" (about Sidney Bechet, and my favorite cut on the recent album), and Dorough's classic "Yardbird Suite" (his vocal homage to Charlie Parker).

Dorough was in good voice all night, a bit gravelly in places but the man is 74 years old! His piano playing was flawless and as full of humor as his vocal inflections and lyrics. "Better Than Anything" was a charmer full of innuendo that you could imagine him singing with Blossom Dearie, and then Dorough treated the audience to three of his "pop-art" songs, which use common phrases and "found lyrics" to great comic effect: "This is a Recording" uses the words of a wrong-number phone message, put to a melody somewhere between "Schoolhouse Rock" and Charles Ives.

"Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty of Law" was the evening's high point for me, a hilarious song with an instantly memorable melody. "Love (Webster's Definition)" was equally memorable and got laughs in all the right places. The great thing about Dorough's songs is that they are broadly funny but moreover they're just good songs.

He made the evening more memorable with stage banter that was genuinely funny, including a weird observation about how "Now even water bottles have nipples." I prefer to leave that unexplained.

Dorough and the band closed the set with a quartet of favorites from "Schoolhouse Rock," played in jazz format but with audience participation. I had some trepidation about the potential for smugness among the audience, but fortunately Dorough presided over the songs with great control and taste.

"Three is a Magic Number" was another big high point (although I sort of wished he'd incorporated some of De la Soul's lyrics, just for fun) – the audience reaction approached gospel-sized fits of hysteria. "My Hero Zero" and "Good Eleven" were good choices, indicating the strength of the songwriting over the nostalgia factor, and the set closer, "Conjunction Junction," received a wonderful performance replete with three-part harmony from the audience … and those aren't easy harmonies!)

I normally don't care too much for that song, but it was a great way to end the show. The audience responded with a huge ovation, and Dorough escaped into the crowd to sign and sell CDs.

As enjoyable a show as I've seen in a few years, I was ultra-glad to have had the opportunity to catch Dorough in action. I have only one thing more to say: Bring Blossom Dearie to Chicago!

I'm Beginning to See the Light
Moon River
Right on My Way Home
Nothing Like You
Something for Sidney
Yardbird Suite
Better Than Anything
This is a Recording
Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty of Law
Love (Webster's Definition)
Three is a Magic Number
My Hero Zero
Good Eleven
Conjunction Junction

Review by Bob Fortuna