Jazz can be fun--although fun isn't what usually comes to mind at a jazz concert these days. Contemporary jazz concerts are usually serious-minded affairs. Enter Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg, one's proverbial eccentric relatives. These grandpa hipsters bring a certain freshness and comedy and humanity to their performance. They are fun.
Dorough was born in 1923 and has a long jazz past. Although having once collaborated with Miles Davis, he has been a solid but rather obscure jazz performer, until recently. In 1997, he recorded the album, "Right On My Way Home," and last year "Too Much Coffee." Both which were critically acclaimed which led to this recording session with Dave Frishberg who, born in 1933, has a long history of writing witty, slightly off-kilter songs. Although they have traded songs back and forth and sometimes composed together for years, this is the first time they've done a record together. This live album was performed at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles in November 1999.
Contemporaries of Dorough and Frishberg will see them as direct descendents of Hoagy Carmichael whose world-weary, wistful tunes enchanted a nation during the Depression and World War Two eras. Some of their songs like Frishberg's "You Are There' are as aching as some of Carmichael's standards like 'Georgia on my Mind.' The middle-aged stratum might see them as more like wacky musical guests on the fictional '60s Alan Brady show. Frishberg would probably sing something like 'My Attorney, Bernie' or 'Van Lingle Mungo,' a samba whose only lyrics are the names of baseball players. People coming of age in the '70s might remember the cartoonish voice of Dorough on songs like 'Conjunction Junction' or 'Three is a Magical Number' from the hit television show, "Schoolhouse Rock." Younger people might recall Frishberg's sly song "Peel Me a Grape" because of a recent Banana Republic t.v. commercial featuring Blossom Dearie and bewildered Lyle Lovett.
Their collaboration on "Who's On First?" is a wonderful collection of old and new songs that keep alive the spirit of quirky and ironic song lyrics with the tradition of fine jazz piano. Their songs are clever filled with world-whimsy without a trace of cynicism. Their voices work well with the songs, but their range is about as expansive as Dylan and Garcia.
They start by performing a sparkling four-handed piano warm-up, 'Rockin' in Rhythm.' They then slide into an updated Abbott-and-Costello-esque piece called 'Who's On First?' It starts off: "They finally booked the two of us in tandem, we can't come on and sing songs at random." and do a tag-team effort to determine who starts the show. So they flip a coin. Frishberg wins and Dorough leaves. Frishberg solos on a humorous and wry set in which include 'Too Long in LA.' It's about being stuck in the left turn lane behind an SUV who isn't moving because its driver would rather answer his cell phone than move an inch. Frishberg introduces 'The Underdog' as a possible vehicle for Sinatra. The rewarding punch line comes when he finishes the song. Like classic comedy, the appeal is the delivery.
Dorough returns and soon proceeds on his own solo set. His 'Health Food Nut' is tongue-placed-firmly-in-cheek about being a cool guy desperately checking out where the nearest organic food store may be. Dorough is at top of his game on both 'Devil May Care' and 'Nothing Like You.' He's slightly over-the-top with his exuberantly articulated 'Hong Kong Blues.' Dorough and Frishberg reunite at the end their show and sing a rousing version of 'Conjunction Junction.'
The songs are flawlessly crafted and performed. Dorough and Frishberg are having a blast, and the audience is certainly too.