MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
It’s back to school time, and this week on the show, we’re celebrating one of the most important musical contributions to education: the animated series Schoolhouse Rock. Starting in 1973, this collection of short songs and crude cartoons taught kids about multiplication, American history and more through the language of contemporary “rock” music. However, many of the musicians involved actually came from the world of jazz. On this show, we’ll explore some of the jazz work of these Schoolhouse Rock singers, including Bob Dorough, Jack Sheldon, Blossom Dearie, and Grady Tate.
It’s Schoolhouse Jazz!, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - BOB DOROUGH, “THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER (LIVE)”
A multiplication lesson from singers and songwriter Bob Dorough. That was him live at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City in 2004 with his original song “Three Is The Magic Number,”
MUSIC CLIP - SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, “THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow, and some Bob Dorough there in the background.
On this show, we’re discussing the jazz artists involved in the groundbreaking 1970s educational series Schoolhouse Rock. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.
Schoolhouse Rock began as the idea of advertising exec David McCall, who noticed his school age son was having trouble memorizing multiplication tables, but had no trouble memorizing song lyrics. So, his idea was to create songs that would help students learn their times tables. The first songwriter involved in the project was Bob Dorough.
Dorough came from the world of jazz—a cool jazz and bebop pianist and composer, known for unique singing voice and his offbeat, jazzy tunes. He worked alongside folks like Miles Davis and Allen Ginsberg, and wrote hit songs for Mel Tormé, but still remained a bit of a jazz outsider. His style was just quirky enough for the project, which was to combine music and animation in a way that would make math seem hip.
His first song for the series, “Three Is A Magic Number,” proved to be so successful that Dorough ended up writing music and lyrics for all of the songs in the “Multiplication Rocks” series, all the way from “My Hero Zero” to “Little Twelvetoes.”
Over the next several years, Dorough was brought back to write and sing for many of the Schoolhouse Rock shorts, covering topics from grammar, to science, to American history, including songs like “The Shot Heard Round The World” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.”
I want to play some of Bob Dorough’s jazz music now, both as a songwriter and singer. I’ll start with a track off of his 1956 debut album for Bethlehem Records titled Devil May Care. On the album, Dorough plays piano and sings, adding his unique, quirky style to many jazz standards.
Here’s Bob Dorough in 1956 with Burton Lane and Yip Harburg’s “Old Devil Moon,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BOB DOROUGH, “OLD DEVIL MOON”
MUSIC - MILES DAVIS AND BOB DOROUGH, “NOTHING LIKE YOU”
MUSIC - MEL TORME, “COMIN’ HOME BABY”
A singer not involved in Schoolhouse Rock, Mel Tormé, performing his hit tune “Comin’ Home Baby” from 1962. That was originally an instrumental song by Ben Tucker, with lyrics added by Schoolhouse Rock songwriter Bob Dorough. Before that, we heard Dorough in 1962 singing his original song “Nothing Like You,” which he wrote with Fran Landesmann. That featured Miles Davis on trumpet and Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, and actually comes from the Miles Davis LP Sorcerer. Davis was a big fan of Dorough. And starting that set, Bob Dorough with the jazz standard “Old Devil Moon,” from his 1956 solo album Devil May Care.
We’re exploring the jazz side of several Schoolhouse Rock contributors this hour. Bob Dorough was the first musician tied to the educational television series, and became its musical director. He brought along some of his jazz friends to lend their voices to different songs. For whatever reason, Dorough preferred singers who were also jazz instrumentalists. One of those was drummer Grady Tate.
MUSIC CLIP - SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, “I GOT SIX”
Tate was a soul-jazz drummer, who got his start performing with organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Wes Montgomery in the 1960s, and can also be heard as a session drummer with folks like Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Kenny Burrell and countless others. Tate also possessed a rich, soulful baritone voice, and began recording vocal albums in the 1960s and continued to record vocal albums into the early 2000s. In 1973, Grady Tate was introduced to an entirely different audience when he became the featured vocalist on the Schoolhouse Rock songs “I Got Six,” “Naughty Number Nine,” and others.
Here’s a recording of vocalist Grady Tate performing a jazz standard. This comes from his 1991 vocal album for Milestone Records called T.N.T. This is Grady Tate with “You Go To My Head,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - GRADY TATE, “YOU GO TO MY HEAD”
Grady Tate in 1991 with J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie’s standard “You Go To My Head.”
One of the most iconic voices associated with Schoolhouse Rock is the voice of jazz musician Jack Sheldon, featured on songs like “The Tale of Mr. Morton,” “Conjunction Junction,” and of course, “I’m Just A Bill.”
MUSIC CLIP - SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, “I’M JUST A BILL”
Like Grady Tate, Jack Sheldon was not primarily a singer. He was a jazz trumpet player, known for his sensitive phrasing and warm tone on many West Coast cool jazz albums from the 1950s and 60s.
In the 1960s, he became part of the house band for The Merv Griffin Show, and his big personality and quirky voice helped elevate him to the role of Griffin’s sidekick. Sheldon’s voice is almost cartoonish in its character, which made it perfect for Schoolhouse Rock in the 1970s. Sheldon continued to record, both as a trumpeter and vocalist, well into the 21st century. I’ll feature a couple of recordings of Sheldon singing jazz standards now, both from the early 1990s.
First up, here is Jack Sheldon from his 1992 album On My Own with the song “Blues In The Night,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JACK SHELDON, “MACK THE KNIFE”
MUSIC - JACK SHELDON, “BLUES IN THE NIGHT”
The expressive, the comical, and iconic voice of Jack Sheldon, of Schoolhouse Rock fame, performing two jazz standards. Just now, that was Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife,” off the 1993 album Jack Sheldon Sings. Before that, Sheldon on trumpet and vocals, along with Ross Tompkins on piano in 1992 with Arlen and Mercer’s “Blues In The Night.”
MUSIC CLIP - ANDRE PREVIN (FEAT. JACK SHELDON), “RAISING CAEN”
Coming up in just a moment, we’ll hear more from the jazz singers involved in the education series Schoolhouse Rock, including Blossom Dearie and Dave Frishberg. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Schoolhouse Jazz, on Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - DAVE FRISHBERG, “PARIS BLUES”
MUSIC CLIP - SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, “FIGURE EIGHT”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the jazz singers and songwriters involved in the 1973 children’s educational television series Schoolhouse Rock this hour. And now I want to turn to an iconic jazz singer, who lended her voice to one of the most haunting Schoolhouse Rock songs, Blossom Dearie.
Blossom Dearie was one of the first vocalists recruited by music director Bob Dorough to sing for Schoolhouse Rock, and she performed the grammar lesson “Unpack Your Adjectives” and this eerie multiplication lesson “Figure Eight.” Like fellow Schoolhouse Rock singers Grady Tate and Jack Sheldon, Dearie was a multi talented jazz artist, known equally for her singing and piano playing. Her childlike voice seemed like the perfect fit for the children’s cartoons. But don’t let it fool you! Blossom Dearie had some seriously mature jazz chops.
Let’s hear some songs from her now. Here is Blossom Dearie from her debut solo album from 1956 with the song originally performed by Billie Holiday. This is “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?), on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “LOVER MAN”
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “IF I WERE A BELL”
Blossom Dearie on piano and vocals in 1958 with the Frank Loesser tune “If I Were A Bell.” That comes from her LP Once Upon A Summertime. Before that, we heard Dearie in 1956 with “Lover Man,” from her debut self-titled LP for Verve Records.
The last Schoolhouse Rock artist I want to discuss is jazz singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg. Now, there are many other musicians who were involved in Schoolhouse Rock that I won’t get to, including singers Lori Lieberman and Essra Mohawk, or songwriter Lynn Ahrens, all of whom went on to have fascinating careers. Ahrens even went from Schoolhouse Rock to a Broadway career, writing the Tony-award-winning musical Ragtime in 1998. However, none of these talented musicians really had much to do with jazz.
Dave Frishberg, on the other hand, started as a jazz pianist, recording with saxophonist Zoot Sims and singer Jimmy Rushing. But Frishberg really excelled as a songwriter, writing quirky, offbeat tunes like “Peel Me A Grape,” performed by singers including Diana Krall to Anita O’Day.
MUSIC CLIP - ANITA O’DAY, “PEEL ME A GRAPE”
Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough ran in the same jazz circles, and even wrote songs together, so Frishberg was another early recruit into the Dorough-led Schoolhouse Rock series. In addition to writing the instantly-recognizable song “I’m Just A Bill,” sung by Jack Sheldon, Frishberg wrote AND performed some of the more economics-related songs, including “Walkin’ On Wall Street.”
MUSIC CLIP - DAVE FRISHBERG, “WALKIN’ ON WALL STREET”
I’ll play now some music by Dave Frishberg, starting with a cheeky little jazz tune he co-wrote with Bob Dorough back in the 1960s. For this one, we’ll hear it performed by a familiar voice.
This is Blossom Dearie again, live at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London with the Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough song “I’m Hip,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “PEEL ME A GRAPE”
MUSIC - DAVE FRISHBERG, “A LITTLE TASTE”
Two cheeky jazz tunes by songwriter Dave Frishberg. Just now, we heard the songwriter himself performing in 1981. That was the song “A Little Taste,” based on a jazz melody by saxophonist Johnny Hodges, turned into a drinking song with Frishberg’s lyrics. And before that, the ultimate jazz hipster anthem “I’m Hip” written by Frishberg and Bob Dorough, and sung there by Blossom Dearie, live in 1966.
To close off this tribute to the jazz artists involved in Schoolhouse Rock, let’s return to the source material. The final song I’ll play for you is one of the most recognizable Schoolhouse Rock tunes, the boogie woogie grammar lesson “Conjunction Junction,” written by Schoolhouse Rock music director Bob Dorough. In the original cartoon from 1973, trumpeter Jack Sheldon provides the vocals. But on this live recording from the year 2000, Dorough himself is singing alongside fellow Schoolhouse Rock musician and jazz kindred spirit Dave Frishberg. This comes from their duet album Who’s On First.
This is Bob Dorough and Dave Frisheberg with the song “Conjunction Junction,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BOB DOROUGH AND DAVE FRISHBERG, “CONJUNCTION JUNCTION”
Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg live in 2000 performing Dorough’s original song “Conjunction Junction,” written for the 1970s children’s educational series Schoolhouse Rock.
Thanks for tuning in to this Schoolhouse Jazz edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE AND OSCAR PETERSON, “TEACH ME TONIGHT”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.