Monday, March 21, 2005

Farewell Bobby Short


Bobby Short was the personification of the perfect Cabaret act, vintage Old New York, all velvety soft notes sprinkled with perfectly rounded piano, propelled by that singular gusto. Bobby Short spent his professional career crooning about the things that truly matter, namely, loves lost and loves gained. Writes the AP:

"Cabaret singer Bobby Short, the tuxedoed embodiment of New York style and sophistication who was a fixture at his piano in the Carlyle Hotel for more than 35 years, died Monday. He was 80.

"Short, whose career stretched over more than 70 years, died of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said Virginia Wicks, a Los Angeles-based publicist. The hospital did not immediately return a call seeking further detail."

Of Bobby Short The Corsair recently wrote:

"Bobby Short has always been a sort of enigma wrapped inside a riddle to me. A Russian Nesting doll, really. Short is entirely unknown within 'the Black Community,' an X-Variable, but, on the other hand, he is beloved by that intimate circle known as Manhattan Cafe Society, which, every year, grows smaller and smaller with the death of another Whartonian banker or novelist of pretty archaic words and antiquated Knickerbocker tones.

"Short certainly has a role in the history African-American music, but, to be frank, I'm not quite sure what that is precisely, as he was never a 'Creator' (and we are generally such a creative and improvisational people), but, rather, Bobby belonged to that class of musicians now nearly extinct, namely The Standards Singers, the Bards of a Gentler Age -- performing music to unwind at the summer home to, music to accompany a leveraged buy out to, music to dance at the exclusionary country club to, the music of an age when men knew what a cummerbund was, and drank martinis dry, occasionally, afterwards, engaging in fisticuffs and then crying into one another's arms about what a "swell guy" the other is.

"When Short started out, most of these Standard Singers were white. The exclusive clubs didn't allow blacks. And African-American singers went in for jazz, as it was their own. Pretty soon and forever after, everyone started listening to black music. But Short found his way in this world, and, like a marathon runner, outlasted almost all the competition. Peter Duchin and, perhaps, Eartha Kitt and the astonishing Betty Buckley (of the stunning Woody Allen cameo; God how The Corsair loves this woman), who came much later, are now, perhaps, the last remnants of a nearly forgotten world that stretches back into the remote American past of The Lost Genration of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. And when they are gone The United States of Amnesia will forget it all entirely, excepting, always, the attentive graduate thesis in musicology.

"The Corsair was introduced to Bobby Short through his rather abrupt and somewhat starling cameo in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (one of The Corsair's favorite movies of all time; the ultimate Thanksgiving movie), where Short appeared loudly, jarringly even, belting out some serious Cole Porter, then, at a moments notice turning down the wattage to a whisper, almost, crooning, "I'm in Love Again ..."

"Actually, Bobby Short may actually go down in history as the first African-American with a speaking role of any sort in a Woody Allen film up until that moment (domestic servants not included). Soon-Yi Previn's influence, since then, has brought on a more multiculti flavor to his works, (though we hope that Woody returns to drama and stops making those fucking comedies in the hopes that unwashed rabble will like him again and do some goddamned American drama).

"... Although The Corsair never been to the Cafe Carlyle (on the grounds that we don't actually wear Depends Undergaments yet) and experienced what, we're sure, are delightful renditions of Gershwin and Cole Porter as only Bobby could perform them. Our blood is still young, a cacophony of intellectual and sexual dissonance, The Corsair is not yet at an age where I can appreciate Gershwin yet, to be frank, Corsair biorhythms move towards the mysterious Couperin and flava full Mobb Deep school of music appreciation.

"But, having said that, one aspect of Short's history has always particularly intrigued me.In the 1970s -- remember, the Civil Rights movement was less than a decade old -- Bobby Short and Gloria Vanderbilt were an item (Cornelius Vanderbilt is presently spinning in his grave like a transcontinental railroad wheel). I know, I know, go straight for the sex, Corsair, why don't you -- but doesn't that intrigue you?

"In the 1970s, this, this ... The queen of American society, the most pampered of the pampered underwent an occasion of the 'Jungle Fever' for Bobby Short? But, in the interest of accuracy, does a passionate moment with Bobby Short really and truly qualify as 'Jungle Fever'? I don't mean any disrespect here. We'll try to be gentle. What I'm getting at is Bobby Short does sing Cole Porter. And this is not exactly a 'jungle' activity -- maybe as a prelude to love at Princeton in the 50s, but not now, if you know what I mean. What I am trying to say, awkwardly, is that there is nothing about Bobby Short, saloon singer, that says, 'jungle.' Maybe Bobby Short could be more properly construed as 'Thicket Fever,' or -- better yet -- a 'Bunch of Thorny Weeds Fever.' There. All done. And no one was harmed in the process. Gloria Vanderbilt likes her coffee like she likes her men -- extra light.And didn't that poor little rich girl also have a thing with photographer Gordon Parks? The Corsair will refrain from further commentary until Mr. Parks' next birthday."

We've had our fun. We will miss Bobby Short, whose subtraction from the New York social scene will be vast. The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once said, "Nature abhors a vacuum." If so, then what will nature do to replace Bobby Short? Nothing quite so spectacular, of this we are sure.

David Patrick Columbia's Beautiful Tribute (NYSocialDiary)


(S)wine said...

He'll be missed.

Jon said...

Thanks for that tribute. I was lucky enough to see him twice at the Carlyle and once out here in SF where I live now. I don't wear depends and am probably younger than you. But I always went for the music. He was a great performer. Your eulogy was right on.