About this time last year, when I began writing “Making Life Swing,” it was hard to pinpoint where I would begin my journey of recounting the deep contributions of jazz and its practitioners to music on TV. I dug deep into my memories of television viewing as a kid, a teen, and a young adult. I mind mapped all my favorite theme songs, and ones that I thought were classics in the genre, Googling the composers, arrangers, and players who created them.
The internet being what it is, however, tugged at my sleeve in the margins of one website, with a blurb that mentioned “Schoolhouse Rock.” Of course – I would start at the beginning, namely my childhood diet of Saturday morning cartoons, interspersed with catchy and iconic tunes like, “I’m Just a Bill,” “Naughty Number Nine,” and “Conjunction Junction.”
I started searching for the creative minds that were responsible for this landmark series and found the website of George Newall, the former advertising executive who got the proverbial ball rolling. Per a request to come up with a way for his boss’s son to learn and remember his multiplication tables, Newall, who had studied composition and was a jazz pianist himself, was able to gather a cadre of musical luminaries, including Bob Dorough, to compose and perform the songs about the multiplication tables on an LP, which eventually became the TV phenomenon we now know as “Schoolhouse Rock.
I emailed Mr. Newall and to my great joy, he not only granted me an interview, but copied Mr. Dorough on his reply, which blew my mind. It was like seeing Duke Ellington or Mozart cc’d on a message to me. I interviewed the gracious Mr. Newall, but was a bit nervous about talking to Mr. Dorough. This was the composer and/or songwriter of classics like “Devil May Care,” “I’m Hip,” and Mel Torme’s hit, “Comin’ Home Baby,” which was composed by bassist Ben Tucker, another “Schoolhouse Rock” alumnus.
The day of the interview arrived and I phoned Bob at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania. He was the consummate Southern gentleman, and was patient, kind, and enthusiastic. And he sang a verse for me from “Elementary, My Dear” – moments like that in an interview are magical!
Without further ado, here is the MLS post on “Schoolhouse Rock.” And some great links for more on Bob Dorough.
Rest in peace, Mr. Dorough, and thank you for the music. There truly was “Nothing Like You.”
Obituary in the Arkansas Times
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Bob Dorough was a unique talent, Joanie, but he was also a good man. He was a jazz singer-songwriter who performed original material and who rearranged standards for his own quirky voice.
When he came to Los Angeles in 1958, the jazz part of the town opened up to him. His friend, jazz singer Terry Morel, took him around to record labels and introduced him to Miles Davis; Miles had him sing “Baltimore Oriole” with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb at The Seville on Santa Monica Blvd. one night; Lenny Bruce got Bob a job on LaCienega, where he met pianist Jimmy Rowles and songwriter Tommy Wolf; Beat maven Lawrence Lipton recorded him for a poetry-and-jazz album on Pacific Jazz; interior designer Eduardo Tirella threw a party in Dorough’s honor, where he met the lovely Ingrid Tacot; impresario Ben Shapiro hired him at The Renaissance; Dorough played piano for drummer Freddy Gruber’s sessions at Georgia Lee’s Caprice in El Monte; alto saxophonist Joe Maini introduced him to Ornette Coleman at a Sunday jam at Duffy’s Gayety, the burlesque house on Cahuenga. Dorough left in 1960 for St. Louis, to star in a short-lived stage production of “Walk on The Wild Side, with songs by Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman.
By 1964, Morel was working in retail shops and no longer singing. When Dorough came back to town to work on “Schoolhouse Rock,” he included Morel on the vocals, like “Conjunction Junction.” It was a grand gesture, and the residuals from that show were important to her in her last years.
I appreciate the additional info, Kirk!… Along with his estimable musical gifts, Bob Dorough truly personified the “pay it forward” aspect that is so prevalent in the jazz community… I wish he would have made it back to LA one last time!…
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