by John Tarpley
At a spry 87 years old, Bob Dorough still has it. A video taken this January features the ponytailed jazzman joking and vamping through "Three is a Magic Number," one of his most famous songs from "Schoolhouse Rock!" Another, from 2010, has Dorough clowning around on his Yamaha between sips from a bottle of Newcastle. No doubt about it, the geek-jazz innovator still has a good bit of the youthful pizzazz that brought him to work with everyone from Miles Davis to Allen Ginsberg and all the way into today with pop-jazz heroine Nellie McKay. (Their collaboration on her 2007 album "Obligatory Villagers" is a highlight of the last decade, a 21st century answer to Dorough's pre-"Schoolhouse" work with Blossom Dearie.)
While best known for his work with that certain series of edutaining cartoons, Dorough's solo albums established his career as a cult musician. His 1956 debut, "Devil May Care," is a light-hearted romp through the hip '50s with a 23-year-old Dorough scatting in his peculiar squeak. The '80s and '90s saw Dorough release a string of albums on small, imprint labels: all are nearly impossible to find, even via download. Still spreading his singular, smiling take on jazz deep into his eighth decade, playing smoky clubs and leading master's classes at various universities, Dorough returns after a four-year absence.
Don't be surprised if the Afterthought has to turn people away. I know I'm not the only guy who's guilty of a little idolization when it comes to Monday's man of the night. (Stephen Malkmus, Randy Newman and Biz Markie are on Team Dorough, too.) The Cherry Hill-born jazz man will be backed by Joe Vick on bass and Dave Rogers on drums.
Check it out: "Figure Eight" (live in Chattanooga, TN)