types Bob Dorough and Grace Kelly at the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival
Bob Dorough, the jazz singer known for a light, bouncy, almost free-form vocal talent on songs like “Devil May Care” and “You’re the Dangerous Type,” appears on Friday, Nov. 18, at the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival. He plays piano and sings in a quartet with drummer Lorca Hart, bassist Edward Harrington, and guitarist Al Schackman. “Al and I played together many years ago,” said Dorough, who is now ninety-two and still singing up a storm. “We used to troubadour around a little, just the two of us, and pick up bass players and drummers. He’s on my 1966 album Just About Everything, and we did a recording of a jazz version of Oliver.”
Schackman went on to be the longtime guitarist in Nina Simone’s band. Dorough has primarily been known for his work in bop and cool jazz, but he also worked with The Fugs. He produced and sang on Spanky and Our Gang’s 1968 album Like to Get to
Know You. “Yeah, I was trying to make a living,” he told Pasatiempo. “It was sort of the rock ’n’ roll years. I didn’t get that many jazz jobs in the ’60s.”
Dorough was born in Arkansas and was a piano player until the early 1950s, when he began singing. His first album, 1955’s Devil May Care, included two originals, as well as a version of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” (with new Dorough lyrics); “Ow!” by Dizzy Gillespie; “Baltimore Oriole” by Hoagy Carmichael; and “I Don’t Mind” by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
“When I first came to New York, I was interested in bebop, listening to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and everybody when I could afford the clubs. We jammed all the time, me and a bunch of other young guys. New York was full of Bird-loving young musicians from all over the country, before Europe invaded, in a way; we were all pretty much Americans and Canadians jamming together. And of course I sort of low-tailed the singing, because you know us beboppers considered it a little corny to sing.”
In the late 1950s, bandleader/trumpeter Miles Davis had the opportunity to listen to Devil May Care ata mutual friend’s house in Los Angeles. When Dorough finally met him at a quintet gig, he expected Davis to say something like, “I like your LP,” or “I’m happy to meet you, Bob.” Instead, the mercurial jazzman “grabbed me by my wrist and said, ‘Bob, go up and sing “Baltimore Oriole.’ ” He drug me up to the bandstand and shooed off the horn players, [John] Coltrane and Cannonball [Adderley] and the piano player and said, ‘Take a break. Bob’s gonna sing one.’ It was pretty bizarre. I knew everybody in his band except him. So I sang one song with Paul [Chambers, the bassist] and Jimmy [Cobb, drums]. Then Miles and I became kind of friends.
“We’d go to a party and he’d drag me aside and say, ‘Play me a song’, and I’d sing everything hip that I knew, not only my own songs but ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,’ things like that. I knew he had big ears. I was just singing my best stuff for him, and eventually he commissioned me to write the Christmas song.” Not too long before, Dorough had been the opening act for the Miles Davis Quintet at the Village Vanguard for one night. “One day he called me. I was working in the Poconos, where I now live. I was working a hotel job, playing piano at a hotel, and he called me up one day: ‘Bob, [here Dorough affected a growly Miles voice] I want you to write me a Christmas song.’ I said, ‘Miles, how you doing? Great to hear from you. What do you mean, a Christmas song?’ ”
He was informed it would be for a Columbia Records disc called Jingle Bell Jazz. “And you’re going to sing it with me, Bob,” Davis added. With tingling spine, Dorough went right to work. The song, “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern),” appeared on the 1962 LP along with tunes by Carmen McRae, Duke Ellington, Pony Poindexter, Dave Brubeck, and other stars of the day.
Did Davis ever sing? “I don’t think so,” Dorough responded. “He’d just tell somebody, ‘It goes like this: Do dah deh’ — you know, non-singing. I’ve always felt that every musician can sing, or could sing, because if you’re a musician you have good ears and you can carry the melody, at least. But there’s a certain embarrassing quality about singing. A lot of musicians consider themselves musicians and arrangers and players, but they wouldn’t ever sing a song. There are exceptions, of course. I was inspired by Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole and Joe Mooney — and even Diz would sing some. Diz was my hero, really. He was the greatest.”
Dorough also worked over the years with Blossom Dearie, Roberta Flack, and Art Garfunkel. Both Mel Tormé and Herbie Mann covered Dorough’s “Comin’ Home Baby!” on their albums, and more recently, his songs were sung or played by Diana Krall (“Devil May
Grace Kelly, who is just twenty-four, got to make music with Frank Morgan. “Frank could play as fast as anybody, but what he really cared about was the sound and the melodies ... that would touch people’s hearts,” she said.
Care”) and Dave Douglas (“Nothing Like You”). In the early ’70s, Dorough began writing and directing
Schoolhouse Rock!, an educational television series for kids. He plans to do a Schoolhouse Rock! show at one of Taos’ grade schools.
For the festival, presented by the Taos Jazz Bebop Society, Dorough will do four or five songs from Just
About Everything, plus a few from Devil May Care and “a Phil Woods song, a bebopper,” he said. “Oh, and my daughter’s going to join the band.” The singer’s daughter, Aralee Dorough, who is principal flutist with the Houston Symphony, will join the quartet for a few songs.
The next night, Dorough will guest on a song on a stage led by saxophonist and singer Grace Kelly. That performance also features a quartet, with pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Edward Harrington. In an early November interview, Kelly said Reggie Austin, who served time and made jazz concomitantly with festival namesake Frank Morgan in San Quentin State Prison, will sit in, too. Kelly is no newcomer to the area. She played Gig Performance Space with her band a year ago and was a member of Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project, which played the Lensic Performing Arts Center during the 2014 New Mexico Jazz Festival. She was inspired to learn the saxophone early in life, listening to her mother play albums by Stan Getz. She went on to learn under Lee Konitz and play with Phil Woods.
Kelly, who is just twenty-four years old, recorded her first four albums before she was sixteen — and she got to make music with Morgan. “In the last year of his life, we got really close. He basically became like a grandfather to me and he brought me all around. I played 10 sets with him at the Jazz Standard. We had plans to do a lot more shows together. He was an incredible mentor. I remember one time he told me to always keep my fingers close to the pearls [the saxophone’s pearl key-buttons], especially when playing fast. He’d always give me nuggets of gold before the performance or in the dressing room, but for the most part what I really learned from him was kind of like osmosis on the stage — like our sounds blending together — and he would tell me how to practice ballads and see how quietly I could play. Frank could play as fast as anybody, but what he really cared about was the sound and the melodies and the ballads that would touch people’s hearts.”
For most of her young career, the alto saxophone has been Kelly’s main squeeze, but she has branched out to soprano and baritone saxes, flute, and even percussion. Most recently, she has been experimenting with the EWI (electric wind instrument), but she said she’ll probably just bring the alto and soprano to New Mexico.
Brand new from Kelly is her She’s the First anthem, which was made into a music video celebrating the work of a New York organization that provides education scholarships to girls in low-income countries. Just before her trip to Taos, Kelly was set to play the renowned Birdland jazz club in New York City. Next winter, from Feb. 4 to 11, she joins Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus, Pat Metheny, and many other musicians for the Blue Note at Sea Cruise.
For the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival, she’ll be performing jazz standards, some tunes she once performed alongside Morgan, and songs from her newest album, Trying to Figure it Out. This CD departs from the pure-jazz flavors of 2007’s Gracefullee and 2011’s
Man With The Hat, her albums with Lee Konitz and Phil Woods, respectively. “Jazz and beyond” is how she describes the music recipe on Trying to Figure
it Out. “I was twenty-three when I made it, and I’ve done a lot of traditional jazz albums, which I love. But I thought I should show that I’m sort of fusing together a lot of influences I have, from the foundation of straight-ahead jazz to more contemporary stuff to covering a Coldplay song that I love — that range of what it feels like to be me in 2016.”