May 19, 2024

An Interview with
Bob Dorough
by Matthew S. Robinson

In the 1970’s, millions of sugar-wired American kids were joined every Saturday morning by friends like Mother Invention, Conjunction Junction and a hopeful piece of legislation simply known as Bill. In three-minute animated predecessors to the modern music video, these colorful characters instructed their young fans about grammar, math, science and history through catchy, memorable songs that are still popular today.

And who brought all these educated pals to our televisions each week? Jazz pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough. Though he is also the only man to sing on a Miles Davis album*, Dorough is best known for his musical multiplication tables and harmonized history lessons. Since those days, however, Dorough has returned to the world of club gig jazz and has recently released Too Much Coffee Man, his second album on the Blue Note label.

So what does the man who made three a magic number think about his own legacy? We recently had a moment to catch up with the casually caffeinated composer to see what becomes a septuagenarian legend most.

JazzUSA: Is the new album new for you or is it part of your career life trajectory?

BD: (Laughs) Well, you know, I wrote some new songs and I did some old songs so it’s a mixed bag, But I planned it in 1999. It took a while to get it all down. So it’s new in every way.

JazzUSA: How about the timing of the album and your relationship with Blue Note. Would you have liked that to have come along earlier in your career or is it fine the way it is?

BD: That would have been nice, but I’m glad that they finally searched me out and signed me up even late in my career. It’s kind of a boot, in fact, you know, when you think you’re struggling along on the outside. I was wondering if I should start recording on the ‘net or that kind of thing when you’re selling on the web. And suddenly, they called em and now I’m on Blue Note Records. It’s awesome!

JazzUSA: Has your career made you cynical at all about the recording indsutry?

BD: No, not at all, but there is a certain amount of cynicism among musicians which I picked up and joined in on. You know, a lot of them are such cheats, taking advatntage of the great talent they have. But I’m not bitter. Why be bitter?

JazzUSA: What has the School House stuff meant to you?

BD: Well, it’s so wonderful because young people who were watching cartoons when I was already out of it grow up and hear me at a jazz club and the recognize my voice or my style or something and so I get a lot of fans that ordinarily a jazz man might not pick up- fans of that age.

JazzUSA: Do you see yourself as sort of a bridge or introduction to jazz for these people?

BD: I do. I take advantage of the fact that they are struck by School House Rock. I did some concerts a while back called “School House RockŠAnd All That Jazz” which mixed a little jazz set in with the other stuff which let them hear something they might otherwise not have heard. So I’m a bridge of some kind. Even the School House Rock was a little bit jazzy. Let’s face it. It’s not real pure rock and roll. It’s got a lot of varieties in the beats and all that.

JazzUSA: Is it still as gratifying and fun to play?

BD: Oh it is. Oh yeah!

JazzUSA: What do you hope your new support and exposure will allow you to do?

BD: Maybe play in slightly larger venues than I have been playing in and maybe with a bigger band. I’ll go with anything from a duo to a quartet or quintet.

JazzUSA: You play with some pretty strong names. Is there anyone else you’d like to play with?

BD: I have some stars on my CD and it’s hard to book them because they’re doing their own thing. You need more money to be able to play with someone like Joe Lovano or Christian McBride. But I’d like to play with Tim Hagins. He’s a trumpet player who is also on Blue Note. I think he’s great. I’d like to play with Russell Malone. He’s a great guitarist. But he’s a big star now, so that may not happen. I’m happy to go out with people hardly anyone knows, just to get it out there. Everybody plays good these days.

* “Nothing Like You” on Sorcerer

© 2001 M. S. Robinson, ARR