Sunday, February 8, 2009
Bye, Bye Blossom
She was charmingly fey, winningly eccentric; but Blossom Dearie's seriously hip jazz chops never allowed her to be merely precious -- despite that winsome little girl's voice, which can only be described as adorable. She has long been a favorite in this house, and she will be sorely missed.
April 29, 1926 - February 2009
by John Hoglund
New York: Feb. 7, 2009: Legendary songwriter/singer Blossom Dearie died peacefully in her Greenwich Village home following a lengthy illness. She was 84 years old. Her longtime manager/representative Donald Schaffer said she died of natural causes.
Ms. Dearie was always known for her girlish voice and writing urbane songs about love and humor and collaborations with the likes of Cy Coleman and Johnny Mercer. Her last professional engagement was at Danny's Skylight Room (now closed) on Restaurant Row where she performed regularly for seven years through 2006.
Born Marguerite Blossom Dearie in East Durham, New York on April 29, 1926, and after studying classical music, began her career in earnest as a teen when she switched from classical piano to jazz. She moved to New York City after graduating high school to pursue a serious music career. Initially, she began singing with groups such as The Blue Flames with The Woody Herman Orchestra and another group called the The Blue Reys (with Alvino Rey's Band) before embarking on a solo career.
In 1952, she moved to Paris where she shared an apartment with rising jazz singer Annie Ross. Soon, she formed a vocal group called The Blue Stars. In 1954, the group had a hit with a French language version of "Lullaby of Birdland." In time, the group would become The Swingle Sisters. While living in Paris, she met her future husband, a Belgian flutist and saxophonist named Bobby Jaspar. On her first solo album, released in France, she played piano but did not sing. Her most famous song of that period was titled, "The Riviera," co-written and composed with Cy Coleman and Joseph McCarthy in 1956.
Returning to New York in the late '50's, she recorded six albums on the Verve label through the early sixties. Most were recorded using a trio or quartet. "Today" talk show host Dave Garroway was an early fan and featured her on the program several times. Her fan base was rabid and growing by then. In 1962, she recorded a song for a radio show for Hires Root Beer. Its popularity was such that it led to the LP, "Blossom Dearie Sings Rootin' Songs." In 1964, she recorded her best known album for Capitol Records, "May I Come In?" which was recorded with a full orchestra. It was during this time that Ms. Dearie started performing in supper clubs in New York where she began honing her distinctive singing style. In 1966, she made an appearance at Ronnie Scott's night club in London and quickly became a popular attraction there. She also gained notoriety for frequent appearances with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook on television. Also while in London, she went on to record four albums on the Fontana label.
In 1974, she established her own record label, Daffodil Records. This allowed her complete artistic, recording and distribution control over her growing cache of material. Through the years, she also appeared on many television programs most notably the children's series called "Schoolhouse Rock." Here, many of her pieces were co-written with Bob Dorough. Her child-like voice can be heard on "Mother Necessity," "Figure Eight" and "Unpack Your Adjectives." Her distinctive voice can also be heard on soundtracks of several films including, "Kissing Jessica Stein," "My Life," "Without Me," "The Squid and the Whale" and "The Adventures of Felix." She also recorded with several musicians including Bob Dorough and Lyle Lovett.
In 2007, Australian singer Kylie Minogue said that Blossom Dearie was one of her strongest influences.
Her musical sensibilities were always rooted in jazz as well as popular song, but her voice and style were uniquely hers ("chic, sleek and squeaky-clean, a voice in a million" said Leonard Feather in the Los Angeles Times). She often toured in Europe, Australia and across the globe performing her light-hearted, fanciful and funny songs for sophisticated audiences. Her very special repertoire ranged from Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Johnny Mercer favorites to comic gems by John Wallowitch and Dave Frishberg and many romantic ballads she composed herself to lyrics by Jack Segal.
Early in her New York Career she recorded six albums for Norman Granz's Verve. The following four have been re-released: "Blossom Dearie," "Once Upon A Summertime," Give Him The Ooh-La-La," and "Sings Comden and Green," and "Verve Jazz Masters 51: Blossom Dearie."
Since 2002, "Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs," and "My Gentleman Friend." have been available on her Daffodil Records. Rex Reed called her "one of New York's treasures," in the New York Observer, while Rogers Whittaker of The New Yorker asserted that her performances range "from the meticulous to the sublime." And Blossom always said about her songs, "They appeal to all ages."
She is survived by a brother named Barney from New York State. Funeral plans have not been announced.