Bobby Short: Mr. Café Society

bobby short
Of the many journeys Bobby Short has made in his life, his favorite one is coming home to New York City. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Dr. Billy Taylor talks with him about his long career.
"This town is about - you hit the street. And it comes right up at you," says Short, adding, "The people that you meet are full of vitality and all kinds of things that you need."

After more than 60 years in show business, Short is still as much of an attraction as ever. At the Café Carlyle, he serenades the well heeled in New York's preeminent cabaret. A two-week gig in 1968 turned into one of the longest running acts in town.

In addition to playing the piano himself, Short uses his nine-piece band to mix in a little jazz.

"I wanted a band for an awfully long time, you know, 50 years, 60 even," Short says. "I wanted to be more of an entertainer and stand up and be free to address the audience. And I've always heard the band in the background anyway. My piano playing is quite percussive."

"And so, now I've got a band," he says.

"And I think that's all right. I think that as a traditionalist, which I call myself, that one has to move on from time to time and seek other ways to express oneself."

Like many faithful New Yorkers, Short didn't grow up there. He's from Danville, Ill., one of 10 children. By age 9, he was already performing.

"Well, I think as a kid performer, you don't have time to think about yourself in terms of your being a kid," explains Short.

"You think about going out there and doing a good job and getting the applause," he says. "I fared pretty well."

"I mean, all the chorus girls naturally loved me," Shorts adds. "That was what kept me going. And I made friends with all the acts I could. I had a good time in vaudeville."

In the '40s and '50s, he took his café-society act to Hollywood and Paris. But the advice was always the same: Go to New York.

"I think that maybe as early as my 25th or 26th year, I realized I was not going to become Bing Crosby or Louis Armstrong," he says. "And what I would have to do - I'd have to sort of meet myself halfway and accept what was going to be my fate in this business."

With elegance and wit, Short has the uncanny ability to make the audience feel like invited guests at a private party - his party.

But sometimes he takes his cabaret to the concert hall, something of an oxymoron. "Well, I find that walking on a stage, one walks on stage with a great sense of relief," he says.

"The cabaret venue is one that is fraught with tension, because in most cabarets people have things on their minds," he explains. "On a concert stage, they come there just to hear you. They're relaxed. Consequently, I'm relaxed. I come out; I sing better. I play better."

Short still loves the old songs - and serves up DukEllington, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and Cole Porter with panache. Nobody sings Cole Porter like Bobby Short.

"It's like buying a good pair of shoes," he explains. "I chose good old songs, and they've lasted me all these years. I suppose at this point in my life I could stop and say, 'Well, I've done it.'"

"Well, I've not done it," he says.