Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Blossom Dearie Day" Postscript

The following review by me appeared in the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner on July 14, 1980.

BLOSSOM DEARIE dislikes being labeled a jazz singer, but much as one would like to comply with the singer-pianist’s wishes, after the first go-round Saturday of her return two-day stint at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, the urge to classify Dearie as “jazz” persists. Active as a recording artist since the mid-’50s (lately on her own label, Daffodil Records, which she personally sells during intermissions) Dearie has, over the years, appeared on at least two recordings of classic jazz status---King Pleasure’s “Moody’s Mood for Love” and the Blue Stars of France’s “Lullaby of Birdland.” And inasmuch as she, reportedly, is one of Miles Davis’ favorite singers, then whatever is that she does, Dearie is, as they say, “close enough for jazz.”

Dearie’s---absolutely real---name suggests her ethereal (yet tough) sound, for she places an almost abiding faith in the lately neglected technique of utilizing silences and aural space in both her vocal and pianistic approaches to a song. Dearie would much rather weave a spell, than grab an audience by the scruff of the neck and slam them into submission. Per usual, then, spell-weaving was the order of the evening with her solo set at McCabe’s before a capacity house, so rapt one could hear the proverbial pin drop even while she was performing.

Almost all of the 16 tunes in her set (8 of which she co-authored) reflect a kind of Broadway-sophisticated meets jazz-hip sensibility. “Pro Musica Antiqua” and “Peel Me a Grape” could sound arch or coy, but Dearie makes them sound friendly and innocent. She even brought off the rare coup of wringing the correct laugh out of “rest us”/asbestos rhyme in her opener, “I Won’t Dance.”

During the latter part of 1999, members of a Yahoo group devoted to jazz singers began a “thread” of stories concerning Dearie, including the lengthy one by Joel Siegel that I included in my last year's Blossom Dearie Day on Dennis Cooper's blog My participation in the thread was as follows:

One day Blossom Dearie came on business to the office of a former New York friend of mine. But all she could bring herself to talk about were the unsanitary conditions in his john: “The yoooo-rine [she pronounced it] stains” on the wall next to the toilet. Dearie then insisted that he send an aide to the deli downstairs to buy scouring powder and when it arrived, she set to work cleaning his toilet. She finished, then departed, and they never really did get around to discussing business. (And Marlene Dietrich thought that SHE was---as self-described---"The Queen of Ajax.") Eventually the insulted party with the dirty loo got even with Dearie by becoming her final (mis)manager.

In 1971 I went to see her perform at some little boite on NY’s Upper East Side. Her new album on Fontana, "That's Just the Way I Want it To Be," had just been released. A little on the pop-ish side, still I adored it. After the show, I said to her, "I love your new album." "Well, I hate it," she said peremptorily, and flounced off.

Cool, effortless and sans guile as a singer, Blossom Dearie was the MJQ of jazz songbirds and as tasty a pianist as that miniaturist instrumental group's John Lewis. She swung like mad, all with a vocal instrument that, in the words of the New Yorker's Whitney Balliett, "wouldn't reach the second story of a doll's house."


Anonymous said...

I saw Blossom in a Pittsburgh room shortly after Winchester In Apple Blossom Time was released for every night of her week long stand. Each night, I bought another copy of "Winchester" as a gift for some friend. On the fourth evening, Blossom sat at my table between sets. A big, blustery guy came up and asked Blossom about her album, "Is it any good?". She said, "Well, I don't know! Why don't you ask Kevin? He's bought four of them!"

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that there are so few comments about Blossom Dearie! Wasn't she something very special?

I wonder if there are many surviving outtakes and alternates from her Daffodil Records

hoover factory said...

I'm hoping the Daffodil catalogue will undergo some kind of reissue campaign. The major label stuff is nice, but it would be terrific to have BD's self-released material readily available again.