Bob Dorough, who died on Monday at 94, was a bebop piano player, a lifelong hipster, and a songwriter who made it all look easy (while always staying one step ahead of you).
He was also an irreplaceable singer — and an important figure in the life of WBGO's Michael Bourne, who offers this reminiscence alongside Dorough's last appearance on Singers Unlimited.
One of the Swingingest Cats Who Ever Was
By Michael Bourne
Bob Dorough was the first jazz singer I enjoyed. I was heavily into Brubeck in the ‘60s, but not yet singers. One of my college housemates owned Bob's Bethlehem album Devil May Care — with Bob looking out from a whirl of orange on the cover. I traded (I can't remember what) for it and I was immediately delighted by it.
I'd never heard anyone sing "Old Devil Moon" (or any song) like Bob. Funny. Swinging. I was just learning what the words "hip" and "cool" meant. Bob was definitively hip. And he wrote the coolest songs on the album. "Devil May Care." "You're The Dangerous Type." I never imagined back then that I'd ever be playing that scratchy LP on the radio. Or that I'd get to know him. And get to be friends with him.
I heard him often through the years. I remember a gig Bob played with bassist Bill Takas in a bistro on an upper floor of a midtown hotel. Not a good crowd listening, but they were having fun, and so was I.
I remember a gig Bob played in the forecourt bar of the Village Gate. Dave Frishberg was playing that evening at the Blue Note, a couple of blocks away. I heard them back-to-back that evening. I joked that I wanted to be certain they were not the same cat. Bob and Dave were both witty and sang with very Hoagy-ish voices. No wonder they wrote the song "I'm Hip" together.
I remember especially when Bob played on a Charlie Parker tribute at the Town Hall. He sang "Yardbird Suite" — wearing a purple zoot suit, complete with a feathered hat. We walked together after the gig, Bob so colorfully zooted, laughing together across Times Square. I was always laughing whenever I was around him.
Bob Dorough was the first singer I ever interviewed on WBGO, and also the first singer to perform on a live Singers Unlimited broadcast — a Sunday "brunch" in 1987 — along with newcomer Dianne Reeves and the great Joe Williams.
Bob, Joe, and Frank Sinatra all celebrated the same birthday, December 12. When I celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Sunday show, Bob was the first singer I called. He sang my request of "You're The Dangerous Type" and played for our friend Carol Fredette, singing his beautiful ballad "Love Came on Stealthy Fingers."
When I started recording spotlighted interviews and performances a couple of years ago, Carol came again with Bob to celebrate his 92nd birthday. Bob especially reminisced about playing on the same gigs as Charlie Parker, also about recording "Blue Xmas" with Miles Davis. Unique, he was. Delightful, he was. Bob Dorough was one of the most sweet and swinging cats who ever was.