Paris: There I was the day after Thanksgiving, jet-lagged in a flea bag hotel in a working class suburb of Paris, begging Johann Sebastian Bach to put me painlessly to sleep, listening to France Musique, their national classical music radio.
It was eleven, and the News, and still no beddy bye. Suddenly, the station’s tempo changed: the m.c. announced a two-hour live jazz transmission from the Club Manhattan of the New Yorker Hotel at EuroDisney, featuring a trio I had never heard of before—my American ears heard the piano player / leader’s name as Bob Dureaux (Do-ROW). His piano, his singing (a tiny “voice” he was using to magical effect), and his composing—especially a love song called “I Never Let a Day Go By” (that I don’t say, a dozen times or more, that I love ya) had me wide awake on my lumpy old bed. Sleep, hell.
This was the best jazz I had heard in a coon’s age. Evergreen standards like “You Go to My Head,” and “Darn That Dream!,” but also a special suite for great jazz saxophonists, starting with Sidney Bechet, and going on to Charlie Parker and Stan Getz. Who was this guy? French from the sound of his name, thirty-ish from the dynamism of his playing. And he had a genial line of patter as well, mixing French and English casually, as he played over the hubbub of your usual drinking not thinking night club crowd.
Man, this guy was so good I vowed the first thing in the morning to find out who his agent was so I could take the train out to EuroDisney and interview him. Many phone calls later, I had the name of the guy running the jazz series out there, one Francois LaCharme. He said, sure come out and I’ll give you a shot at Bobby.
EuroDisney didn’t look like it was losing money, $900 millions its first year, just concluded. I had been there on opening day, April 1, 1992, to check out the architecture. And as much as I despise the Post Modern maneuvers of Princeton professor / architect Michael Graves, I had to admit that his NeoDeco Hotel New Yorker was classy. Now its skating rink was frozen and aslide with skaters, its huge lit up Xmas tree a successful allusion to Rockefeller Center. Club Manhattan was a murky, underlit venue like a thousand other night clubs I’ve visited in a lifetime of jazz crawling. Except that its walls were graced with a veritable visual history of the art form, world class photographs, and sculptures of jazz instruments. And Francois gave Andrea and me the prize table right next to Bob’s piano.
We nursed our drinks until, suddenly, Bobby appeared. WHA?? This was no Frenchman in his thirties, but a ponytailed American in his late sixties (he actually celebrated his seventieth birthday December 12)—back in his hometown, are you ready for this?, of Mt. Bethel, PA, in the Delaware Water Gap! Forget Doo-ROW. His moniker is Dorough and he was born in Arkansas and raised in Amarillo, and went through (1946-49) the first jazz band curriculum in the country—at North Texas State in Denton.
Yup, another expatriate American jazz musician—both his bassist and drummer live permanently in Paris where Dorough finds them ready and waiting to travel with him—as for the gig recorded live from Barcelona with flugelhornist Art Farmer and sold by Bob himself that night from his piano, on the spot, for $14 a cassette as “Songs of Love.” “I Never Let a Day Go By” is one that one, so do yourself a favour, and send Bobby a check for $14 to Scharf / Dorough Ltd., Box 667, Stroudsburg, PA 18360 and check out his triple talents for yourself. I’ve been playing it incessantly throughout my month long odyssey across Europe, reviewing art exhibitions for the Welcomat.
And, I’ll tell you something, jazz is accorded more respect and just plain affection in Europe. That’s why Bobby and his buddies love to play there. Let me give you a few examples. A Belgian businessman became obsessed seven years ago about reclaiming the hotel in Auvers / sur / Oise where Vincent Van Gogh spent his last days. I had read such a glowing report of its opening in September in the International Herald Tribune that I talked Andrea into driving me out there, 35 kilometers northwest of Paris in the pastoral valley of the Oise River. Auvers / sur / Oise has perhaps two thousand inhabitants, but as we pulled up to the Van Gogh Center, we saw a banner flying from the lighting standards announcing a two day jazz festival—on a boat!
Needless to say, I showed up even though the cabbie nicked me twenty bucks for a five buck ride. It was a great concert, with the local piano teacher leading three Parisian sidemen in his own compositions. It was intellectual jazz, tightly written, not too much improvisation, hard to attend to, because you don’t know the tunes, but delicious nonetheless. And the audience was not a bunch of pot-smoking hippies, but a family affair. A local doctor runs the festival. His friend the insurance man helps him. Not for money. They barely break even. Just for the love of it. The way some people collect paintings. Or read novels. The insurance man’s eleven year old daughter was really into it, because she studies piano and wants to be a jazz pianist when she grows up.
To avoid that damn robbing cabbie, I hitched a ride back to the hotel where the Van Gogh people put me up, in an even smaller village, L’Isle d’Adam. As I thanked them and started to walk up the steps of my hotel, I heard Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” coming from the Banana Grill across the street.
It was already “around midnight,” but I said what the hell, might as well check it out. ZOWIE. The conservatory trained pianist, 31 it turns out, and the 45-year old tenor player (who wore his hat like Charlie Parker throughout the night!), and the bassist, also thirtyish, were as good at jazz as ever I have heard in a globe circling search for my favorite art form. At one o’clock the police shut you down in this little village, but the owner pulled the curtains shut and allowed local enthusiasts to jam until the wee wee hours. At three a.m., I looked across the street and my hotel was as dark as pitch, and a few door rattlings revealed it was locked tighter then a drum as well. The Banana Grill owner had to do some discreet phone calling to give me a shot at my sack!
And a few weeks later in Lisbon, where the folks are revving up for its being the Cultural Capital of Europe in 94, another free jazz festival! Needless to say, when I got back to Philly, I bought up all the records he still had in print. The first thing he told me on the phone, somewhat tartly, that he was “Bob” Dorough, not “Bobby.” M. LaCharme, doubtless wanting to sound more American, had led me down that onomastic dead end. As it happens, I am a fierce and ceaseless opponent of the American pseudo-intimate ploy of intimate first names, ever since at Michigan State in 1951, a callow State Farm insurance agent tried to put me in a sellable mood by “Pat-ing” right off. I’ve insisted on Patrick ever since.
Now scout ahead three years. I’m in L.A. to scrutinize the new Getty Center, having an early morning NPR coffee when, lo and beheard, WHYY arts reporter Peter Cloney is garnishing “Morning Edition” with an interview with Dorough on the occasion of his latest CD, from Blue Note. And because he was about to do a three day gig at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, the Sunday L.A. Times had a long and informative feature on the man from Mt. Bethel, the rest will come after I have an interview with you. I leave for Paris 1/8 for a month. But if you get this soon, call and say whether I can come up to Mt. Bethel to interview you. I have in the works a collection called “My American Pantheon” where I tout the offbeat oddballs like myself who have boogied to a different dreamer.