Bobby Short was clearly one of a kind. He was a quintessential New York figure who adhered to social standards and practices that no longer exist in a T-shirt-and-blazer world. His music presented itself the way he presented himself, with grace and dignity. He was a musician and musicologist of the highest order. His palette was the Great American Songbook. His canvas was the Cafe Carlyle. It seemed as though he knew all the songs and the verses. I heard him trade wits with Jonathan Schwartz on a radio program in New York City one evening in the mid-'80s. Jonathan, the son of composer Arthur Schwartz, was asking for a particular song, and Bobby said he didn't think he knew it. Without hesitating, though, he then played a seldom-heard verse to the tune and then the chorus. "Very sly of you, Mr. Short," said the host. You could sense Bobby's satisfaction through the speakers.
Mr. Short is why the tuxedo was invented. When boys go to rent tuxes for the prom, they should be shown a picture of Bobby in a tux, to see its promise. It would be like showing a movie of Babe Ruth to a singles hitter or a Monet to someone purchasing acrylics.
I have sat back with friends, discussed his passing and wondered, "Will we ever see the likes of someone like him again?" The answer is hard to figure, but I will tell you this: For whatever musical excellence you are wishing to achieve in your lifetime, there could be no better role model than Bobby Short.
In these rather tasteless and vulgar times, his class and virtuosity will be sorely missed.