Singer/pianist Bob Dorough (1923 to 2018) is best known for his work as musical director and composer for the children’s TV show, Schoolhouse Rock!, which aired from 1973 to 1985. Under his direction, millions of children learned about conjunctions, the magic number three, how a law becomes a bill, and the preamble to the Constitution (my personal favorite). But few know that Dorough collaborated with many jazz greats like trumpeter Miles Davis, singer Blossom Dearie, and pianist composer Dave Frishberg (these two wrote the satirical “I’m Hip” together), and that he recorded for various labels, even turning out three (magic) albums for Blue Note Records in the late 1990s.

In the fall of 2014, at the age of 91, Dorough recorded But For Now, a trio album with an alto sax (Michael Hornstein) and bass (Tony Morino). Recorded live, without overdubs, the album contains all of Dorough’s usual humor and swing and recalls an earlier sound—spontaneous, unbridled, and warm. The album’s song list revisits several chestnuts by other composers (“Girl from Ipanema”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”, and “Take Five”), but the title cut is one of Dorough’s own, and the only self-penned tune on the album. It’s a love song that he wrote decades ago for his wife, Corine, who died in 1986. Enja Records released But For Now, Dorough’s final recording, just last year, a month or so after his death. And this month the National Endowment for the Arts honors Dorough posthumously with the Jazz Master Award. That’s a noun, you know—a person, place, or thing.

Another belated launch: Giacomo Gates recently released a four-track record that he cut in 2005. That album, G8S (9thNote Records), short as it is, encapsulates all that’s great about Gates’ singing. He nails each groove with aplomb. He solos as easily as he breathes. He chooses intriguing arrangements and monster players. He tempers blazing-fast tempos (“Come Along With Me”) with moderate swing tunes (“Hungry Man”) and the occasional gooey ballad (“Why Try To Change Me Now”). The most intriguing thing about this recording, though, is how much Gates of 14 years ago sounds like Gates of today. His is a forever voice.  

On Mingus’ Sounds of Love (Leo Records), singer Maggie Nicols takes Charles Mingus’ dazzling compositions a step further. Eschewing any chordal instruments, Nicols’ accompaniment on the album is a trumpet-alto sax duo in close harmony, overlaid on thudding drum lines. The emphasis lands on Mingus’ provocative lyrics—which Nicols uses as a jumping off point for extemporaneous spoken word, shrieks, and atonal vocal improvs. The performances are wildly imaginative, almost alarming—and quite funny at times (especially “Weird Nightmare” and “Mingus Cat-Alog/Pussy Cat Dues”). One straight, rollicking blues tune—“Nostalgia In Times Square”—shows off the group’s more conventional side, with coordinated riffs and ample solos. Just this side of scary great.     

Juggernaut singer Paul Jost reprises some tunes from his first JALC appearance on Simple Life (PJ Music). Last May, as a guest artist on vibraphonist Joe Locke’s week-long gig at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the two powered through “Caravan” and “If I Only Had A Brain,” two of Jost’s signature tunes. These appear on the new record—Locke as a sideman this time—in a natural evolution of their on-stage collaborations of the last few years. Besides Locke, the record features Jost’s regular rhythm section: pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tim Horner, the three musicians responsible for introducing Jost and Locke to each other to begin with. The album isn’t all amazing scats and power vocals though. Jost’s version of “Shenandoah", with his mournful harmonica solo, is a heartbreaker.  

Super gigs: On Apr. 13 Tony Bennett, 92, takes to the stage at Radio City Music Hall with daughter Antonia as part of his multi-city “I Left My Heart” tour; the two will perform from their jazz/pop canon. There are two places to hear Jazz Master Sheila Jordan, 90, this month: with pianist Alan Broadbent at Birdland on Apr. 17-20 and at Local 802 on Apr. 9, in “Keeping Jazz Alive: A Workshop on Contemporary Vocal Improv”, with fellow warbler Theo Bleckmann.  Tuck & Patti, the long-time guitar-voice duo, will be at Iridium Apr. 30-May 1, and rising star Veronica Swift, who took second place in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition in 2015, sings at Jazz Standard on Apr. 4-7.

(Reprinted from the April 2019 issue of New York City Jazz Record.)