Early in his career, pianist and composer Bob Dorough used to make ends meet by taking any gig he could, including working in New York's dance halls and rehearsal studios. Which is how he connected with world champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
"He'd retired as champion in 1952 and took up a show business career until 1954. He was a tap dancer, had a partner, a vaudeville pro named Joe Scott. I met them in a tap-dance studio where they were learning routines from Henry Letaine, who later became a famous choreographer on Broadway. They said, 'Let's go on the road,' and so we traveled all around the continent, Canada and the United States, for two years. It was a glamorous gig: We played opposite Louis Armstrong, toured the south with Count Basie, the Dominos, Ruth Brown, Earl Hines. Eventually we wound up in Paris, and when Sugar Ray decided to go back in the ring, I stayed there working in a club for another six months."
Dorough, who performs this afternoon at the Corcoran as part of the Great American Songwriters series, is also represented on the 1962 all-star concoction, "Jingle Bell Jazz," reissued just last year. He'd been called into the studio by another part-time boxer, Miles Davis, who "asked me to write a Christmas song." The result: "Blues Xmas," with Dorough on vocals (another original song from that session, "Nothing Like You," appeared later on the "Sorcerer" album). "Miles hadn't worked with vocalists much at that time so it was great, quite an experience."