Monday, November 16, 2009

Here's A Chance To Get Off On Your New Math Tricks

Do you know who this guy is? Maybe you don't recognize him, but there's a good chance you've heard some of the many songs he's written and performed.


This is the amazing Mr. Bob Dorough -- jazz musician, composer and musical director of a television series from the 1970s called Schoolhouse Rock! I was invited to the sneak-preview opening of the Toonseum, Pittsburgh's only museum dedicated to the art and history of cartoons (yeah! I know!) and the musical entertainment that evening was none other than a jazz trio featuring Bob Dorough who played and sang through about a dozen classic tunes from Schoolhouse Rock!


Ever groove out to Conjunction Junction? You can thank Bob Dorough, he wrote that. Ever have trouble remembering your multiplication tables and end up singing "eleven times eight is eighty eight, twelve times eight is ninety-six" in your head? Thank Bob Dorough for the A on your math quiz. He wrote all the number songs for Schoolhouse Rock! Not to mention a ton of other tunes. And that's his voice you hear on Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here, Three Is A Magic Number, The Shot Heard 'Round The World and others.


But there's more to Bob than just his particular genius for writing insanely catchy and memorable tunes. I was lucky enough to talk to him throughout the night and discovered that Bob Dorough is one of the nicest people I've ever met. And he seemed genuinely thrilled that there were people out there that really appreciated his songs. I didn't see the guy stop smiling all night long. Seriously.


Before he started his set, a friend of mine and I praised him to high-heaven for writing the song Figure Eight -- it's so eerie and melancholy, and the piano intro is a beautiful classical masterpiece. That's when he showed us his set list for the evening. Like I said, about a dozen songs including I'm Just A Bill, Conjunction Junction, Unpack Your Adjectives, The Preamble, The Tale of Mr. Morton, My Hero Zero and more. Sadly, Figure Eight was not on his set list, but we were thrilled to know we were going to be treated to some real classics.


Bob had the crowd signing along with him, doing multiplication on the fly, and clapping along all night. My friend and I were standing close enough to his piano to see the set list and know when he was finished. But when he got to the end of his set, he turned around to his bass player and drummer, whispered something, then turned around with a big smile, looked at us and said, "This was sung by the late, great Blossom Dearie....it's called Figure Eight!" I think I almost cried.


Then he did Figure Eight and it felt like I was sitting in front of my parents' TV on some Saturday Morning long ago. Later in the evening, when he was mingling with the crowd, we were able to shoulder up to him again and thank him for playing Figure Eight. With a twinkle in his eye he smiled and said, "That was for you." And then I really did cry. -v

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