By the time most jazz singers hit their 70s, they’re forced to cope with a diminished range and failing lung power. But in the last few years Bob Dorough, now 78, has been singing as well as ever–maybe because he didn’t have much of an instrument to begin with. His small voice seems to crack and hoarsen under the strain of merely reciting a lyric, as he grabs a breath every few syllables–and yet somehow he manages to nail every note, and squeeze it in on time. Dorough (rhymes with thorough) writes like he sings; his songs have an offhand hipsterish air, and he occasionally chooses oddball texts just to make problems for himself: the lyric to his “Love (Webster’s Definition),” recorded by Spanky & Our Gang in the 60s, is a lightly emended dictionary entry. His cred is as impeccable as his timing: In the 1950s he hung out in Paris and accompanied both Lenny Bruce and boxer Sugar Ray Robinson on piano. In the 1960s he was one of the rare singers to record with Miles Davis; he also arranged for campus folkies the Chad Mitchell Trio and hippie cutups the Fugs. But only insiders had heard Dorough himself before the 1970s, when he wrote and sang a passel of songs for TV’s Schoolhouse Rock, including “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Adverbs Here” and “Three Is a Magic Number.” His jazz tunes–“Nothing Like You,” “Devil May Care”–still get recorded by the likes of Dave Douglas and Diana Krall, but Dorough’s two 2000 Blue Note releases, the jittery Too Much Coffee Man and the live Who’s on First? (the latter split with similarly hip and equipped singer-songwriter Dave Frishberg), make a case for the composer as his own ideal interpreter. Anyone whose fans include Lena Horne and Dennis Hopper must be doing something right. Bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charlie Braugham back him up. Sunday, March 10, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joanne Savio.