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R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Hope you'll forgive me waxing rhapsodic about a personal favorite of mine, the jazz singer/pianist Blossom Dearie, who died at the age of 82 a couple of weeks ago.

Dearie started as a classical pianist, but soon changed to jazz. She moved to Paris in the early 50's, and has sung in French on a number of recordings. In the late-50's she came back to America and signed for Verve, for whom she put out six delightful albums (well... I've only heard the entirety of some of them, but those ones are delightful). During this period she was influenced by the be-bop artists, while still retaining a largely standards-based repertoire. Miles Davis arranged to have her share the bill with him at the Village Vanguard on a number of occasions, and worked with Gil Evans.

In the 70's she started her own Daffodil Records label, putting out albums that featured her own, often sardonic songs. Many Americans of my generation became familiar with her voice based upon songs she performed for "Scholhouse Rock." She continued performing in New York well into her 70's.

Those who have heard her breathy, girlish, and very small voice won't soon forget it. She was the opposite of a belter. Her recordings of songs were intimate. I never (to my regret) saw her perform her later-career supper club shows in NYC, but it's hard for me to imagine her performing live. She sounds as if she was singing to the listener alone. I never heard her sing with any large groups... the recordings I know were her, her piano, and a small jazz group behind her.

While her voice was distinctive, and her scale small, she could summon a range of emotions from soprano. Her love songs sound like they come the sweetest, gentlest lover you ever had. Hear the way she transformed that hoary chestnut "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" from a clip-clop paced trot to a comfortable legato. To my ear it's not particularly sexual, but it is wonderfully romantic. She performs a similar wonderous feat with "I'll Take Manahattan" -- you want to stroll up and down the isle all day and night with her.

However, if you want the sex, you can get some... of a sort. It's not Eartha Kitt-style sex. But listen to "Give Him the Ooh La-La" or "I'm Always True to You Darling In My Fashion." She leaves you no doubt that she knows how to seduce a man, but has no intention of ever laying it on too thick.

And then quite a number of her songs feature her deadpan humor. Hers is the definitive version of Dave Frishberg's "I'm Hip." If you've ever heard the loathesome Bette Midler perform that number, you really need to listen to Blossom to wash the unsubtle filth away.

With that Marilyn Monroe-esque register of hers, it could all be too precious and vapid. But she comes off as quite intelligent. And that is a t=estimony to her wonderful phrasing. It's not at the level of Ella Fitzgerald's, but then again who's is? She knows the right amount of time to hold onto a note, which is key when you're singing songs at the languid pace that she often does.

Re: R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Heard a tribute to her on NPR and they played a bit of "I'm Hip" and mentioned her involvement with the "Schoolhouse Rock" educational songs that used to play between Saturday morning cartoon shows in the U.S.

Anyone know WHICH "Schoolhouse Rock" songs were hers? I'm guessing (based on the snippet of "I'm Hip") that she might have sung "Unpack Your Adjectives"?

Re: R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Per Wikipedia, she did "Figure Eight," "Upack Your Adjectives," and "Mother Necessity."

Re: R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Figure Eight was awesome.

Re: R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Check out the album, and song, "Once Upon a Summertime" was well. Lovely stuff...

Re: R.I.P., Blossom Dearie

Found this live TV performance of her doing "Surry..."