BY ROB LESTER**** This week we remember a singer/pianist/songwriter/recording artist who was born on an April 28th once upon a time and was a fixture on the New York City and international music scene for decades, who died in 2009 at age 84. Her uniquely memorable name was Blossom Dearie and she is missed. She was known for her feathery “little girl” voice which was disarming and surprisingly effective with tender ballads and witty ones which showed off what she categorized as her “deadpan” humor. She lived in Greenwich Village.
Musicologist/journalist Will Friedwald, in a National Public Radio interview back in the 1990s, credited the jazz sensibilities she brought to cabaret for her longevity. On another radio show, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, the charmed and admiring host called her “incandescent” and praised her by saying, “You swing like crazy.” Miss Dearie told jazz writer Leonard Feather she found being called a jazz singer or a cult favorite too limiting. In her Paris days in the early 1950s, Blossom was once roommates with Annie Ross, who still holds forth on Tuesday nights at the Metropolitan Room. Blossom worked with or hung out with such jazz greats as Dave Lambert — Ross’s colleague in the legendary trio of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross — Woody Herman’s band, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and be-bop pianists who had a strong impact on her playing. She became a New York regular presence in later decades with long Manhattan residencies at the Ballroom and Danny’s Skylight Room; she was shepherded there and in general by publicist/manager Don Schaffer, another NYC cabaret stalwart.
Early on, Blossom recorded for Norman Granz’s Verve label, the one for which this year’s centenary celebrant, Ella Fitzgerald, was with for many years. Eventually, she created her own label, Daffodil. She recorded standards, little-known gems, slyly amusing items by Dave Frishberg such as “Peel Me a Grape” and “My Attorney Bernie,” and songs she co-wrote (including salutes to fellow musicians like John Lennon and Dusty Springfield). A whole generation may recognize her most or first because of her contributions to “Schoolhouse Rock” by and with kindred jazz spirit Bob Dorough. She was friends with Johnny Mercer, whose “My New Celebrity Is You” was written for her and was one of his final creations. They’d collaborated on another of her specialties, “I’m Shadowing You.” Her music and Jack Segal’s words combined to create a captivating number about a singer’s episode on tour, “Bye Bye, Country Boy,” which Marilyn Maye now often sings. “It’s Alright to Cry” was a piece she wrote in response to 9/11. The late John Wallowitch was another singer/songwriter she crossed musical paths with and his funny cross-dressing portrait of “Bruce” was another item she picked up along the way.
While grandstanding-style singing and vocal gymnastics can be impressive, they don’t always get to the heart of a song. Blossom Dearie commanded attention with her small voice and precise pianistics (she confessed/insisted that improvisation wasn’t one of her skills and she had to plan everything very carefully). Rogers Whittaker of The New Yorker summed it up by stating that her that her renditions ranged “from the meticulous to the sublime.” Indeed!