Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Robert Lrod Dorough, 12 December 1923, Cherry Hill AR; d 23 April 2018, Mount Bethel PA) Pianist, singer and songwriter. He played clarinet in high school and in the US Army, dabbled in piano and violin, attended North Texas State in the late 1940s and settled on piano, moved to NYC and Columbia University grad school '49. He went on the road as musical director with Sugar Ray Robinson '52-4, the boxer turned tapdancer; in the South they toured with Count Basie, and Dorough took over the piano chair during Robinson's act. The job with Robinson took him as far as Paris, where he then worked at the Mars Club, singing and playing anything he pleased every night for five months.

He wrote lyrics to Charlie Parker's 'Yardbird Suite' when Parker died '55, recorded it '56 on his first album, a quintet set Devil May Care on Bethlehem (reissued on Avenue Jazz 2000). His singing style incorporated vocalese and scat, conversational yet with horn-like phrasing, breathless and raspy, compellingly entertaining and absolutely unique. He lived in Los Angeles in the late '50s, met Miles Davis who wanted to help his career: at a Columbia recording session '62 Davis recorded Dorough's 'Blue Christmas', and also tossed off 'Nothing Like You (Has Ever Been Seen Before)' with a vocal by Dorough, less than two minutes long, then impishly used it as a closer on his '67 album Sorcerer. (The lyrics are by Fran Landesman.) In the 1960s Dorough got into commercial work, jingles, arranmging and producing other people's albums, working for Chad Mitchell (ex-folk group the Chad Mitchell Trio) which led to work with Spanky And Our Gang.

Dorough's experience at arranging and writing in many different contexts paid off when bassist Ben Tucker introduced him to the executives at the David B. McCall advertising agency in '71, who were jazz fans. They hired him to be music director of TV's Schoolhouse Rock, writing ingeneous and funny songs to help teach kids. For his first assignment, Dorough said, 'The gentleman said, "Put the multiplication tables to rock music and call it 'Multiplication Rock'." He didn't know what rock'n'roll was. I was a jazzman, but I had an inkling . . . I always attempt to look for variety in my work. So with each song I wrote for the multiplication series, I attempted to get a different kind of beat and texture. So one might sound a little like country music, one might sound like rock'n'roll, one might sound like rhythm and blues, one could even be a little bit jazzy. I just kept laying it on them and they loved it all the way. They didn't know it wasn't rock . . . The educational intention worked, too . . . It could entertain people from 2 to 92. We brought in jazz artists like Blossom Dearie, Jack Sheldon, Dave Frishberg.' Dorough didn't write all the songs; Frishberg was one of the other contributors. But his work as music director on Schoolhouse Rock made him famous and was loved by a generation of kids. (Quotes from an interview with Jim Santella in Cadence, 12/2000)

Later in the '70s Dorough became a troubador again, touring everywhere with his sidekick, bassist Bill Takas, and getting back to playing piano and singing, his first love. His first album for a major jazz label in 40 years was Right On My Way Home '97 on Blue Note, consisting of two sets: his vocals and piano accompanied by Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Christian McBride on bass and Billy Hart on drums on one set, by Takas and Grady Tate on drums on the other. Ace sideman Tate (b 14 January 1932, Durham NC; d 8 October 2017, NYC) began with Quincy Jones, later with Peggy Lee, began singing; played in Tonight show band '68-74, was also a veteran of Schoolhouse Rock, singing some of the songs in his own witty and stylish way. Whether he was jazzing up 'Moon River', revealing anew the beauty of 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most' or being funny about a failed date on 'Walk On', Dorough was a rediscovered treasure. Too Much Coffee Man '98-9 on Blue Note had a larger cast including Hart, Phil Woods and many others on three recording sessions: the usual eccentric variety added up to an 'utterly delightful roller coaster ride with a truly original talent' (Jerome Wilson in Cadence). Who's On First 2000 was a live album on Blue Note; there were other albums on Laissez-Faire, Arbors and Philology.

Dorough was still at it at age 90, with a new album called Eulalia on Merry Lane Records. He wrote the title track for Sam Most about 60 years earlier; on the album it features his daughter Aralee Dorough, who has been principal flautist of the Houston Symphony Orchestra since 1991. There are nine tracks, including six Dorough vocals, collaborating lyricists includinng Landesman; Phil Woods is also again present.