Monday, February 16, 2009

Blossom Dearie

As so often happens, I learned she was "still alive" by reading her obituary.
In 1952 Blossom Dearie moved to Paris, where she formed her own vocal group, the Blue Stars, for which she wrote many arrangements. One of these, a version of George Shearing's Lullaby Of Birdland with a French lyric added, scored a considerable hit in France. In Paris she met and married the Belgian saxophonist and flautist Bobby Jaspar.

It was there, too, that she was heard by the American jazz impresario Norman Granz, who signed her to his Verve record label. She returned to the United States and with her six Verve albums, recorded between 1956 and 1960, the characteristic Blossom Dearie style finally emerged. Her repertoire was chosen fastidiously from the wittiest, tenderest and most sophisticated songs in the canon, with each interpretation carefully refined in advance. The songs of whose wry lyrics she was fond included Cole Porter's Always True To You In My Fashion and The Gentleman Is A Dope, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

For some Verve recordings she was accompanied by studio orchestras, but her preference was always for small groups of the best jazz musicians available. Her 1957 album, Give Him The Ooh-La-La, with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Jo Jones is particularly impressive, with her own piano playing by no means outclassed by the stellar performers alongside.
(See also the NYT obit and Wikipedia.)

She was a singer I liked on the strength of two songs from Verve compilation discs: "Always True to You Darling (In My Fashion)" and "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." Particularly on the former, you hear the breathy, little-girl voice that seems to've been how she'll be remembered by many.

But venturing out to the store and returning with her first two albums (including Ooh-La-La, I was struck by how little of that appears. (That second album in fact includes an outtake of the title track that's much more "Betty Boop" than the album cut.) She never has a big voice -- you wouldn't mistake her for Anita O'Day -- but I've enjoyed those discs a lot already, and will be looking for more.

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