His Shortness - 1924-2005
Without Bobby Short, I doubt I'd know a tenth of the words and tunes of classic American popular songs I do - the period in which they were written, per Alec Wilder, was before my time. I doubt I would have read Alec Wilder, for that matter. And it was almost a fluke that I picked out that Cole Porter collection and acquired the taste for it so quickly - on first hearing, it was kind of a shock. The musicality was obvious; the manner, the intimacy, the gaiety were different. Pleasure, charm and wit are much devalued - they can rekindle your spirits when something more massive or serious (and perhaps more moving) is just too much.
I saw Bobby Short just once, in Chicago, in the cavernous Auditorium, and he made the place feel like a living room - he even killed the mike to test the famous acoustics on Ivor Novello's "And Her Mother Came Too" (one of the songs Jeremy Northam did so beautifully in Gosford Park, playing the composer). Not a word or a gracenote was lost. I'd heard many recordings already, and none of them quite caught the ring in the older voice - it was subtle and lovely and it reached out to you. He really seemed there to have fun, and you were included.
That's what's wrong with Woody Allen's sticking him into movies like Hannah and Her Sisters - there he becomes a test of taste; if you don't respond to him, there's something wrong with you. Utter bullshit. I trotted back from a few years' absence from my family with some Bobby Short in my bags, something I wanted to share with them, and they thought I was nuts - if they didn't connect with the style, that was fine (I had already had my moment). I had also already had a romantic evening in which an early recording of his of The Carioca figured prominantly - there was some bourbon, too, but saloons are made for hooch, even if they are only a bedroom, right? - and that I will always remember. For that night alone, I thank Bobby.
O yeah - there are some things he did that I think are perfect - try "Not a Care in the World" from the Vernon Duke set on the second Town Hall concert with Mabel Mercer. You can taste it! The pleasure the servants in Gosford enjoyed on the stairs for a few moments, smoking and relaxing and being embraced by a song - Mr. Short could do that. Small can indeed be beautiful.