There was a COTA 2010 piece as well, but I don’t know where it is. I did one more of these in 2012, where I made two glaring errors that actually caused me to lose sleep. That was at a time when I was fighting a losing battle to continue to teach, and it was getting increasingly hard to keep all the balls in the air. I detest the victim mentality, as they say, but just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. I retired in 2012, and wound up giving up free-lance work for several years thereafter as well.
In fact, I did very little writing after getting my doctorate in effective writing instruction. Academia kind of sucks sometimes haha.
There was also a much earlier interview I did with Bob where he talked about growing up about a mile from Texarkana, his life in the service, and his earlier jazz days in New York. In that piece he explained the origins of School House Rock, born when an ABC producer he knew complained that his daughter was failing math because she didn’t know her times tables, but could remember every word from various commercials that aired during kid’s TV.
To think you can bump into Bob on any given morning at the WalMart in Eastburg, where he occasionally goes to buy bananas and people watch. What a country!
For decades, corporations have been lusting to host the Festival of the Arts, or “the Jazz Festival,” as aficionados know it. And for that long, organizers of the annual event have resisted the siren call of greenbacks to keep the Festival a local, all-volunteer event. Fittingly, the Festival this year honors Bob Dorough, a “local” boy despite his international fame.
“Bob epitomizes the spirit of the Festival. Without him it would be a small day,” said Denny Carrig, one of the owners of the Deerhead Inn, the place where the Festival was conceived by founders Rick Chamberlin and Phil Woods, both world-class musicians, and the late Eddie Joubert, a well-loved tavern owner and community organizer.
“I first heard Bob at the Back Door in Stroudsburg,” recalls Carrig, naming a now-defunct club just off of Main Street. “I always thought that Bob had the capacity as a great showman and entertainer. Whether the audience was five or 95, he would have them eating out of his hand in no time.”
Dorough is perhaps best known as the inventor of Schoolhouse Rock, penning well-known tunes like “Zero is my Hero” and “Conjunction Junction,” a man who made his music appealing to a generation of fans who grew up listening to his distinctive southwestern drawl.
“I think we wouldn’t have nearly as much accessibility to the kids (without Bob), especially because he introduced this jazz culture to a younger generation. He helped create this little Mecca of Jazz in the Poconos,” Lauren Chamberlin said. Chamberlin, daughter of co-founder Rick Chamberlin, is one of the “children of the jazz” that continue the work started by her father.
Tim Helman, who started as a face-painter at the Festival in the early eighties and is now a member of the COTA Board, recalled how he was drawn into the circle of jazz.
“You know, everybody like me watched TV on Saturday morning as a young kid, and I thought (Dorough’s songs) were the coolest thing ever. Then one day he came to Stroudsburg Middle School, and I was blown away. It was like, ‘Wow! This guy lives in the area?’ Naturally I was a rock and roller then, but that opened me up to jazz. I had no idea he was such a jazz icon at the time. I really became a jazz fan after my first festival. I was wondering, “Why isn’t everyone here?’”
Helman said that the COTA Cats are proof the mentoring model works. Area students get a chance to work with the masters and then perform at the Festival, and alumni of the COTA cats have gone on to fame as band leaders and recording and performing stars.
“It just amazes me how all of the musicians team up and pull together to mentor the young students. The COTA Cats is one of the biggest mentoring programs in the world, and the festival does Camp Jazz, which we help fund and keep going,” Helman said. He added that the decision to remain local poses its own challenges, but recent gifts from the Hughes Foundation and others have helped tremendously in filling coffers that were lean as a result of two rainy seasons in a row.
NEA Jazz Master and Emmy-winner Phil Woods is perhaps Dorough’s biggest fan. Woods has just recently returned from Oslo, Norway, where he and Dorough performed, and said it would be a mistake to stop at the Schoolhouse door as far as Dorough is concerned.
“My point is that he is a prime influence, not just in the Poconos, but world-class. He played with Miles Davis, backed up Sugar Ray when he became a singer. Jazz would not be anything like it is without him. I can’t keep up with him. He’s on the road more than I am. We worked on a song book with 100 songs that hopefully we’ll sell at the Festival, and everyone will be playing one of his songs,” Woods said.
Woods, who joked that he was “80 years old, with the body of a 79-year-old” considers himself “just a kid” next to Dorough, his senior by five years. One of his pet projects is to get Dorough inducted as an NEA Jazz Master, something which fans can make a reality.
“Come on, man! About time I say! And please – everyone go to the NEA web site and nominate this guy for a Jazz Master’s award.”
Dorough was borne in Arkansas and raised in West Texas, played clarinet in two Army bands, finished college and then moved to New York. He lived there and played the old Mount Airy Resort until 1966, when he moved to Mt. Bethel. When asked when asked about being honored at this year’s Festival, his response was typically low key.
“I’m very humbled about it all. There’s so much great talent here and so many (musicians) that are way above me, like Phil Woods and Dave Liebman, and all the young musicians that know so much music. I had to dig it out the hard way,” Dorough said.