Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries
Though the weather seemed a bit stormy earlier in the week, there are some bright spots on the horizon for music in Little Rock. With jazz and acoustic artists (boasting multi-page bios of experience) heading into town, it’s a good week to appreciate the dynamics of good musicianship — whether it be a highly seasoned acoustic guitarist or a jazz musician who has changed a generation’s perception of times tables as we knew them.
Native Arkansan and famed jazz pianist Bob Dorough appears on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Old State House Museum in a benefit for local Southern literary and culture magazine the Oxford American. The OA is bringing in Dorough as a follow-up to the release of its annual music issue for a benefit concert.
For those unfamiliar with Dorough’s work, his biography is eclectic, to say the least. Born in Cherry Hill, he got his degree in composition at what is now the University of North Texas and — riding the aspirations of the beat generation — moved to New York to engulf himself in the jazz scene.
Although Dorough did not find superstardom per se (he has always remained somewhat under the radar for those who aren’t jazz enthusiasts), he did have several pockets of fame. He helped create Allen Ginsburg’s album of William Blake’s poetry and, while playing at a tap studio in Times Square, he was introduced to Sugar Ray Robinson, who had temporarily left boxing to put together a song and dance revue. Dorough became the musical director of the show, which traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe. He left Robinson’s revue in 1945 and remained in Paris, recording albums with Blossom Dearie — a girly-voiced jazz singer and pianist who garnered fame for her later work with Dorough and with a song for a Hines root beer radio commercial.
In 1956 Dorough released his first album, “Devil May Care” (with a lyrically infused cover of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite”) and caught the attention of Miles Davis. Dorough wrote a Christmas song for Davis (“Blue Xmas”) and went on to record a somewhat controversial piece (“Nothing Like You”) for Davis’ album “Sorcerer.”
After these brief escapades in jazz infamy Dorough disappeared into the shadows. He still wrote and performed (adding a jazz element to folk band Spunky and Our Gang and producing a top 40 hit for Mel Torme) but his albums were few and far between — the followup to “Devil May Care,” titled “Just About Everything,” didn’t arrive until 10 years after the former’s 1956 release.
It wasn’t until the early ’70s and an encounter with advertiser David McCall that Dorough would finally find his unusual claim to fame. The song “Three is a Magic Number” proved to be the catalyst to Dorough’s 18-year career as the creative musical genius behind “Schoolhouse Rock!,” animated shorts that would teach a generation about multiplication. McCall created the series when he realized his son knew Beatles and Rolling Stones’ lyrics better than he knew his times tables, and the spots were eventually picked up by Michael Eisner, the head of ABC children’s programming at the time. The shorts went on to become one of the most memorable, educational TV moments in history, and Dorough’s voice (as well as Blossom Dearie’s, who often sang for “Schoolhouse Rock!”) became synonymous with hits like “Conjunction Junction.”
Although Dorough will forever be the stuff of children’s TV legend, he did remain true to his jazz sensibilities, playing for several obscure labels and recording the rare album along the way. His most recent album is still jazz, but the topics (“too much coffee” or “traffic tickets”) and the sometimes-unavoidable propensity for rhyming make you wonder if some of Dorough’s instructional experience hasn’t leaked into his musical jazz creations.
Either way, for those of you who know Dorough it is worth the $20 ticket ($25 at the door). Undoubtedly you’ll be musically treated to a night of one of bebop’s historical figures and if you’re really lucky, you may catch a rendition of “I’m Just a Bill” or “My Hero, Zero.” Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
Acoustic guitar aficionados Ken Bonfield and Steve Davison will be performing at North Little Rock’s Laman Library lecture hall on Thursday starting at 7:30 p.m. in a free concert.
Bonfield is a classical guitarist from the Boston area who describes his sound as “Leo Kottke meets Ed Gerhard on the way to a Bill Cosby Show” and has peppered the interludes and commercials of NPR and PBS with his classical guitar work. Inspired by the works of Kottke and David Wilcox, Bonfield finds the guitar one of the most versatile and expressive instruments available. After years of hard work (including playing a concert for one person when a blizzard struck in Taos, N.M.) he has six albums to his credit.
Davison was the solo winner of the 2005 Arkansas Acoustic Festival and has been a featured performer on Acoustic Sounds Cafe. He began playing music in rock ’n’ roll bands at age 12 and, after accepting that his vocal abilities were less than stellar, he chose the simplicity of instrumental guitar.
Dutch group Bettie Serveert plays Sticky Fingerz on Saturday, Oct. 21.
The band was formed in the late ’80s by Peter Visser and Herman Bunskoeke of De Artsen and Carol van Dijk. De Artsen, however, began garnering some belated attention with its debut album and the new group was shelved while De Artsen went on tour. When De Artsen subsequently broke up, Bettie Serveert — meaning “Bettie to Serve” and a play on the name of 1970s Dutch tennis player Bettie Stove — again reformed and gained famed among the college circuit in the early ’90s with the debut album “Palomine.”
Bettie Serveert has toured with Belly, Buffalo Tom, Jeff Buckley and Wilco and its often-bubbly sound, infused with the husky strength of van Dijk’s voice, makes the band appealing if not enduring. Bettie Serveert has always delivered accessible, classic pop rock, though it did delve into Velvet Underground covers with the album “Venus in Furs” in 1998.
On the band’s most recent album, “Bare Stripped Naked,” we are treated to Bettie Serveert without the whistles and bells. The sound is stripped down, with acoustic versions of songs showcasing Van Dijk’s voice. The album might make most Bettie fans wonder whether the group ever will solidify its style.
Showtime is 9 p.m., and admission is $6.
Other acts to catch this week: Jazz/funk/jam band Garaj Mahal plays Sticky Fingerz on Thursday. It’s as interesting a sound as the name implies, pairing world beats and languages over a groovy vibe … On Friday at Juanita’s it’s Chasing the Fall’s CD release party, and on Saturday catch indie progressive rock band Coach with The Clicking Beetle Bad Omen Band and David’s Pegasus … Some Little Rock favorites at White Water Tavern this week include Salty Dogs on Friday and the Contingencies and the Easys on Saturday. Also this week at the UUCLR Coffee House at 1818 Reservoir Road, the Dave Rogers Trio will fill in for Szeredy Kriszti and the Pupork Jozsef Gypsy Band (who canceled their Southern tour). Rogers is chief recording engineer, composer, arranger, percussionist and producer at Capitol Keyboard Recording and has produced one album with his trio.