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American Routes Shortcuts: Blue X-Mas

Bob Dorough
American Routes

Arkansas-born singer, arranger and composer Bob Dorough wrote bebop and modern jazz tunes. If those don’t ring a bell, how about “Conjunction Junction, What's your Function”? Dorough is the wit behind the songs in the popular 1970s  TV series, "School House Rock."  A few years back, host Nick Spitzer spoke to Bob about how he came to work with Miles Davis around the holidays.

To hear the full episode, tune into WWNO Saturdays at 7 or Sunday at 6, or listen at Americanroutes.org

BD : Yeah, well we had a mutual friend in Hollywood, the late great, Ms. Terry Morrell, a singing lady, friend of mine. Always kept my album displayed prominently on her shelves and Miles Davis used to sleep at this house where she rented the attic - he didn’t seem to like hotels if he could get in a house. So he came up to visit with Terry because they knew each other, and one day he said, “what’s that?” And first she said, “that’s my pal, he writes and sings and plays piano.” Supposedly, according to Terri, he heard the whole LP.

NS: You did write a song on his request, what was that song?

BD: Blue X-mas

NS: Blue X-mas, yeah.

BD: This about after we’d known each other four years, he said, “Bob, this is Miles. I want you to write me a Christmas song.” Christmas song, what do you mean? “You’re gonna sing it with me, Bob.” So a couple of weeks later, I got right on the song and I called him up and said “I got the song,” and he says, “Ok, come down tomorrow night.” So I went to his house in Manhattan and there was Gil Evans and I played the song over and over and over, and Gil made some notes and went home and wrote the arrangement.

NS: Could you just give me the voicing of the open, just ot give people a taste of the down…

[Sings Blue X-Mas]

NS: Now in that one, it seems to me your voicing does sound a little more kind of, not the optimist. You’re talking about a blue- you’re not saying Christmas, you’re saying X…

BD: Well, what would you do if Miles Davis asked you to write a Christmas song?

NS: I’d do exactly what he told me. Was he approving of Blue X-mas?

BD: Well yeah, he said write the song and I began immediately to think because he was, you know, the so-called Prince of Darkness, I mean he’s not gonna want to hear La Dee Da and Jingle Bells and things like that, so I concentrated on the over commercialization of Christmas.

NS: So Blue Christmas, or Blue X-mas I should say, stands as kind of a monument of critique really.

BD: Yes, I think it does. It’s quite popular around Christmas time, I think a lot of radio - what we call DJs, or operators,

NS: The DJ operators, yes we’re familiar with those people

BD: They put it on in December.