Bobby Short, the king of the saloon singers, who ruled the cabaret worldfrom his piano bench at New York’s Café Carlyle for more than 35 years, died of leukemia early Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital, his publicist told the Associated Press. He was 80.
Though he embodied urbanity, elegance, and Manhattan high society, Short was born the son of a coal miner in Danville, Ill. A child prodigy and self-taught pianist, he was playing in saloons by age 9 and headlining shows on the vaudeville circuit by age 12, earning the nickname ”the Miniature King of Swing.” As an adult, Short enjoyed success with long-term nightclub gigs in Los Angeles, London, and Paris. He recorded albums of jazz standards that earned him three Grammy nominations.
In 1968, after a concert with fellow cabaret star Mabel Mercer at New York’s Town Hall became a successful live album, Short became the singer in residence at the Café Carlyle. Playing for high society audiences six nights a week, eight months a year at the posh Upper East Side nightspot, Short became an institution. He appeared as himself in a handful of movies, notably Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, with his presence serving as a kind of shorthand for the sophisticated Manhattan that Allen depicts in most of his films.
Despite changes in musical fashion, Short remained a living embodiment of the classic American songbook, rediscovering obscure gems from the 1920s and ’30s as well as giving new life to well-known standards by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, or Ellington and Strayhorn. Short was such a fixture that it seemed he would be holding court at the Carlyle forever. Just a month ago, he was out on the town, attending the opening of a cabaret show by another legend, Chita Rivera, and finishing his seasonal stint at the Carlyle.