- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

Forget what you’ve heard about Bobby Short retiring. Oh, he thought about it. He gave notice to New York’s posh Cafe Carlyle, where for 36 years he’s held court as the nation’s — if not the world’s — pre-eminent cabaret king. Newspapers widely noted the impending parting as the end of an era synonymous with New York’s elegance and sophistication.

“I’m 79 years old, and I’ve had some serious thoughts about pursuing other things,” Mr. Short told the New York Times in April. “More time for my friends, more time for things I like to do.”

The Cafe Carlyle “has been wonderful to me,” Mr. Short said of the tony establishment inside the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s East Side. “I’ve had the pleasure, the privilege of working in the best saloon in the world.”

Some five months later he’s singing a different tune.

On Wednesday, Mr. Short was hard at work, flying into Washington on his 80th birthday to rehearse with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops for a three-concert engagement at the Kennedy Center that concludes tomorrow.

“It was my decision at that point to step down,” the noted bon vivant told The Washington Times Monday during a phone interview from his New York home. “[But] I don’t believe in retirement. And I thought, ‘If I don’t work, what will I do?’”

Besides, why quit when — to paraphrase Cole Porter, one of Mr. Short’s favorite lyricists and composers — you’re the top.

For seven decades, Mr. Short has dazzled audiences with his piano and vocal mastery; first as a child in vaudeville (billed then as the “miniature king of swing”) and later on-screen, appearing as a pianist in the ABC miniseries “Roots: The Next Generation” and starring as himself in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

His Carlyle gig, however, opened the door to even greater exposure when the ad agency representing Revlon tapped him to appear in a TV commercial for Charlie perfume in the late 1970s. The ad featured Mr. Short at his effervescent best — tickling the ivories while extolling the merits of the fragrance in song as model-turned “Charlie’s Angels” star Shelley Hack twirled about.

“When it was running, people would constantly stop me on the street,” Mr. Short recalls. “That commercial ran a long time, and I have a house in the south of France because of that ad.”

But there have been lean times, too.

“I’ve been out of work a few times in my career, and I’ve not always been heralded with great acclaim,” said Mr. Short, a three-time Grammy nominee, most recently for “You’re the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter” in 2000.

Yet through it all, his style and elegance were ever present.

“I was brought up in the 1930s, so we knew about hard times. But people back then always had class,” said the ever dapper Mr. Short, the ninth of 10 children born to a coal miner and a maid in Danville, Ill. “When I think of elegance, I think of [Duke] Ellington and [vocalist] Ivy Anderson. They were royalty. You dressed for the audience, and they dressed for you.”

With his Kennedy Center engagement, Mr. Short is on familiar ground, having performed in the venue many times and working again with Marvin Hamlisch, who will conduct the NSO Pops.

He’s no stranger to the works of Cole Porter, either.

“Cole was a realist, and his philosophy about life appealed to me most,” Mr. Short says of Mr. Porter, whom he met in the 1940s. “His lyrics represented a turning point in popular songs. He talked about the things one discovers between the cracks in a love affair.”

WHAT: “NSO Pops: It’s De-Lovely: A Tribute to Cole Porter”

WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Concert Hall, the Kennedy Center, New Hampshire Avenue and F Street NW

TICKETS: $20 to $80

INFORMATION: 202/467-4600 or visit online at www.kennedy-center.org

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