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Bobby Short and Alden-Barrett Quintet


Sunday Night Jazz Showcase

Program #301 (October 18 at 8:00 p.m.)

This program features vocalist Bobby Short performing with the Alden-Barrett Quintet whose members include Howard Alden (guitar), Dan Barrett (trombone), Chuck Wilson (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Frank Tate (bass) and Jackie Williams (drums).

Nightclub entertainer Bobby Short performed from the 1930s to the 2000s, primarily singing the songs of the masters of pre-rock popular song, especially Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Noël Coward, and Rodgers & Hart, while accompanying himself on piano.

The quintessential cabaret artist, the dapper Short, who often made best-dressed lists, perfectly articulated the lyrics in a husky baritone, delighting his well-heeled customers, particularly at the ritzy Cafe Carlyle of the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he was in residence from 1968 to 2004. Live performance was his métier, but he also made a series of recordings for Atlantic Records, Telarc, and other labels, along with occasional forays into film and television acting as well as the musical theater.

The ninth of ten children born to Rodman Jacob Short, a coal miner, and Myrtle (Render) Short, a domestic, in Danville, IL, Robert Waltrip Short, nicknamed Bobby, took an early interest in the family piano and, despite a few lessons, was essentially self-taught. He began playing professionally in local roadhouses at the age of eight or nine. Soon, he was performing at society parties in a white tuxedo.

In July 1936, when he was 11, he attracted the attention of booking agents who, with his mother's permission, took him to Chicago to perform in vaudeville and on radio. In June 1937, after finishing grade school, he traveled to dates in Cleveland and Toledo, then moved to New York City, where he appeared at the Frolics Cafe in October and at La Grande Pomme, as well as at other clubs and theaters around the country.

He returned to Danville in the summer of 1938 to attend to high school and performed only in local venues over the next several years. But after graduating in 1942 he went back to show business permanently, opening at the Capitol Lounge in Chicago that July, followed by engagements in Cleveland, Omaha, and Los Angeles, where he settled in 1943. By the following year, however, he was working in Milwaukee and St. Louis, and in the spring of 1945 he was an opening act at the Blue Angel in New York City for four weeks. He then returned to California, by way of an appearance in Phoenix, where he performed at the Haig and the Café Gala over the next few years. While he was at the Haig, in the late '40s or early '50s, he made a record that was sold at the club. He also appeared without credit in the film musical Call Me Mister, released in January 1951, singing "Going Home Train."

Over the years, Short came to represent the elegance and sophistication of New York with his tuxedoed appearance and repertoire of standards. As a result, he became attractive to advertisers, who frequently featured him in television commercials and print ads for such products as perfume and designer jeans.

In February 1979, he acted in the ABC television mini-series Roots: The Next Generations, and in May 1980 he was a producer and participant in the Broadway revue Black Broadway, which had a brief run at Town Hall. His other TV guest appearances included the series The Love Boat, Tattingers, In the Heat of the Night, Central Park West, Frasier, and 7th Heaven.

He was seen and heard as himself, performing Cole Porter's "I'm in Love Again" at the Cafe Carlyle in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters in 1989, and his recording of Porter's "I Happen to Like New York" was heard over the titles of Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery in 1993. (Other soundtrack-only appearances included Savages [1972] and Love Affair [1994].) He also appeared in the films For Love or Money (1993) and Man of the Century (1999), and in the TV movies Hardhat and Legs (1980), A Night on the Town (1983), and Blue Ice (1992). He published a second memoir, Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer, written with Robert Mackintosh, in 1995.

Short announced his retirement from the Cafe Carlyle with his final appearance on New Year's Eve 2004, but later agreed to return in May 2005 to mark the club's 50th anniversary. Instead, he died of leukemia at the age of 80 on March 21, 2005.

(provided by Allmusic)