Bobby Short was a perfect example of how thoroughly the music of the Great American Songbook has become an international institution. Demand for his music was worldwide. It was not unusual for him to be summoned across the Atlantic to play for a concert or a private party.
I was first exposed to Bobby Short as a teenager growing up in Helsinki, Finland. My mother used to read about Mr. Short and the Café Carlyle frequently in various novels and detective stories. She also would play me early recordings of the Bobby Short Trio with Rolly Bundock and Larry Bunker featuring such tunes as “I Like The Likes Of You” and “I Can’t Get Started.”
It was quite fascinating how our paths would cross in New York City during the spring of 1989 when I was called to play a Friday night at the Café Carlyle. Naturally, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to play with the Bobby Short Trio.
It was equally amazing how the events of that spring night would work out.
I was advised to be at the Café Carlyle at 7:30 p.m. for a “verbal rehearsal.” However, neither bassist Beverly Peer or Bobby Short were present.
Finally, at around 8:40, as usual, Bobby Short appeared in the hotel’s gallery. We introduced each other and Mr. Short proceeded to have his usual evening tea with honey and lemon.
After the first set, without any rehearsal, I felt that I needed to improve my performance. During the intermission I thought about how I could play the second set better.
Surprisingly, Bobby Short had decided to change the entire program – making my job even more demanding. In later years I would often talk with him about that, but he claimed he did not “remember” the event. I always thought that this was his way of testing my musical ability and how I would handle the pressure.
Both sets on that spring Friday night went well and I ended up working with Bobby Short nearly 15-and-a-half years.
The varying degrees of success in performers who play the music of the Great American Songbook have always been determined by the way the individual could combine understanding, intelligence and musicality into a unique package that retained the essence of the original while creating something new. Bobby Short offered this package at the Café Carlyle for nearly 37 years. He not only knew more songs than he ever counted, he knew more about them, their provenance, their first performance, who sang them and how. Bobby Short was a living library of America’s best popular and theatre songs, music and fine lyrics.
Working with Bobby Short was extremely educational, musically rewarding and fun. It always amazed me how he could still invest each new performance with a first-time freshness.
Bobby Short was the greatest “saloon singer” of our time who has no peer in his chosen field.
Klaus Suonsaari is a drummer, composer and producer. His web site is www.KlausSuonsaari.com.