Can a guy with a raspy sort of voice, a quirky stage manner and an offbeat sense of humor also be a first-rate jazz singer? He can if he's Bob Dorough.
On Tuesday night at the Jazz Bakery, the veteran jazz pianist gave an object demonstration in his own unique, utterly idiosyncratic style of jazz singing. It was, from start to finish, a constantly entertaining set of music, informed by his lengthy jazz history (he is 74), but bristling with youthful animation.
In a far-ranging set of songs, Dorough pulled the full-house, responsive audience into his music with a casually relaxed manner, easily generating the feeling that his enthusiastic listeners were sharing an evening of music in his living room. Almost every song was introduced with a humorous anecdote or a whimsical throw-away line, almost always reflecting, in completely unaffected fashion, Dorough's ineffable sense of hipness--a kind of charming, world-weariness tinged with an inexhaustible optimism.
He sang a number of songs from his new Blue Note album, "Right on My Way Home," as well as several apparently unplanned tunes with bird references. Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole," a short tune with a tricky lyric received a definitive rendering, the sly imagery of its lyrics crystal clear. " 'Tis Autumn," another song with bird characterizations, gave Dorough the opportunity to add some scat lines, and the driving vocalese he brought to Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" underscored his solid jazz credentials.
Dorough, best-known to younger audiences for his extensive work on the long-running ABC Saturday-morning cartoon series "Schoolhouse Rock," couldn't do a complete set without including at least one number from the seminal educational vignettes (whose musical foundation actually had much more to do with jazz than rock). Singing "Conjunction Junction," he soon had his entire audience--young and old--joining in on the brief, catchy chorus line.
Dorough's performance was aided by a particularly strong backup ensemble. The versatile bassist Bill Takas has been a close associate for more than 40 years, and the lengthy connection revealed its benefits in flowing, intimate musical interaction. Saxophonist Gary Foster and drummer Joe LaBarbera, added for the date, filled in with their usual high level of professionalism.
For all its wickedly entrancing individualism, Dorough's program also was a masterful musical seminar in what communication and storytelling are all about--not just in jazz singing, but in any kind of vocal presentation. And it was one that should be experienced by any artist with even the remotest ambition to connect with an audience through his or her voice. Dorough knows jazz singing.
* The Bob Dorough Quartet at the Jazz Bakery through tonight, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20 admission at 8:30 p.m. $18 admission at 10 p.m.