[Dixielandjazz] Bobby Short NY Times Obit

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 22 06:56:06 PST 2005

Here is the NY Times Obit on Bobby Short. What it doesn't say is that Short
got his start with N.O. Jazz, Tiger Rag etc. What it does remind us of is
that Short was a Jazz pianist thoroughly grounded in stride. And that he was
the BEST OF HIS MUSICAL GENRE. What more is there?

Steve Barbone


Bobby Short, Keeping the Party Going
There are few entertainers about whom one could say, So-and-so is simply the
best. For nearly four decades, Bobby Short reigned at the Cafe Carlyle on
New York's Upper East Side as America's quintessential male cabaret
singer-pianist. The best at what he did, Mr. Short, who died yesterday,
elevated the humble role of the piano-bar entertainer to an art.

To the extent that it flourishes in the music of Michael Feinstein, Steve
Ross, Eric Comstock and Billy Stritch, to name four talented younger
practitioners, that tradition owes an incalculable debt to Bobby Short.

Twice a year, this eternally boyish bon vivant bounced into the Cafe Carlyle
to play the indefatigably merry host of a Manhattan party that lasted for
only a little more than an hour, but left you feeling refreshed and aglow.
He evoked the joyful hi-de-ho of Cab Calloway, refined for the salon. Giving
himself to performance with the enthusiasm of an excitable child, he would
often leap from his piano bench and throw out his arms as if to embrace the
room, all the while maintaining perfect enunciation. At this elegant bash,
guests from downtown, uptown, out of town and out of the country partied
side by side under the spell of his unflappable bonhomie.

To dismiss Mr. Short, as some did, as a plaything of the rich and the chic
is to overlook his contribution to jazz and to New York cultural life. He
was one of the last exponents of an ebullient dusk-till-dawn nightclub
culture that flourished in Manhattan until it was done in by television,
rock 'n' roll and its own inflationary pressures.

At the keyboard, Mr. Short refined his own personal brand of stride piano.
Vigorous and sophisticated but devoid of fuss and frills, it was as
distinctive as his voice, to which it was inextricably wedded. Over the
years, his sound evolved from that of a caroling choirboy into a huskier
baritone whose timbre varied from fogbound to clear, depending on the night
and sometimes on the moment. As his voice acquired deeper shades and rougher
textures, he made adroit, expressive use of each new facet.

Championing the work of African-American songwriters like Duke Ellington,
Calloway, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Andy Razaf, he
placed their music on the same pedestal as standards by Cole Porter, Jerome
Kern and Irving Berlin. Each performance suggested a continuing dialogue
between uptown and downtown that demonstrated the depth of communication
between Harlem and Broadway. His performances and recordings played a
crucial role in leveling the racial playing field of American pop and
helping bring a shamefully obscured history to light.

Because he entertained predominantly white audiences in upscale spaces like
the Cafe Carlyle, Mr. Short could be mistakenly written off as a snob.
Contributing to that impression was the air of la-di-dah insouciance he
shared with other performers, like his friend Mabel Mercer, the great
cabaret singer. A sense of style, however, is not to be confused with
superficiality. Like Ms. Mercer, Mr. Short could plumb the depths of a song
when the occasion demanded.

That style was an expression of Mr. Short's personal philosophy. Because his
career was a fantastic feat of self-invention, it is little wonder that the
predominant spirit he conveyed was a childlike awe and pleasure at living
the high life. As the years piled up and he suffered from debilitating
ailments that made walking increasingly difficult in his final years, he
concealed his discomfort. Each performance became an act of
self-transformation in which he threw off his troubles. Every time he sang
Razaf and J. C. Johnson's racy announcement, "Guess Who's in Town," he
conveyed the exuberance of someone who had just breezed into the room to
give the party a lift.

For all his elegance, Mr. Short could never be called effete, and his
performances burst with a playful, robust sensuality. Lil Green's bumping
and grinding hymn to uninhibited lovemaking, "Romance in the Dark," became a
long-running showstopper that Mr. Short milked for every ounce of jolly

Taken together, the songs that formed the backbone of his enormous repertory
became variations of that upbeat philosophy. At the very heart of it stood
"Just One of Those Things," Cole Porter's regret-free, laughing-it-off
epitaph to a love affair that passes like a streak of lightning: "It was
great fun, but it was just one of those things." If there are regrets, they
are minor compared with the sheer thrill of being alive and of having the
chance to begin again.

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