Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Dearie, Blossom (Margrete)
Singer Blossom Dearie captivated club audiences for decades with her childlike high voice and her intelligent choice of songs, but was also an elegant piano player - Marian McPartland once said she played “perfect chords.”
Blossom Margrete Dearie was born in East Durham, NY on April 29, 1924 and died in Greenwich Village on February 9, 2009. People are often surprised to learn that Blossom Dearie was really her given name. “Dearie” came from her father’s Scotch-Irish forebears, and “Blossom,” according to the singer, reflected her springtime arrival. Dearie suggested in one interview that her parents might also have been thinking of the Vaudeville entertainer Blossom Seeley, who was popular around the time of her birth.
Dearie began taking piano lessons long before her feet could reach the pedals. After years of classical piano and encouragement from her teachers toward a concert career, she began playing jazz while in high school, then moved to Manhattan to start a career in music. She quickly found herself immersed in the 1940s jazz scene, and was a habitué at arranger Gil Evans’ apartment and getting to know luminaries like Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan.
Dearie also became associated with bop vocalists Annie Ross and Dave Lambert and can be heard on the groundbreaking 1952 vocalese adaptation of "Moody's Mood for Love." These associations led to work in vocal groups like the Blue Flames, who sang with Woody Herman’s band, and with Alvino Rey’s Blue Reys, while Dearie also played cocktail piano around the city. Dearie moved to Paris in 1952, where she roomed for a time with Annie Ross and met the Belgian flutist and saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, to whom she was briefly married.
In Paris she joined a vocal octet called Les Blue Stars, whose recording of “Lullaby of Birdland” in French achieved hit status. Les Blue Stars also recorded a delicious version of Cole Porter’s “Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor” done in three-four time instead of the usual beguine, with Dearie at the piano, now available on a CD remaster with over Blue Stars tunes.
The next big event in Dearie’s career occurred in Paris when Verve Records owner Norman Granz saw her perform and signed her on for a six-record contract. These sides, cut between 1956 and 1960, offer a first hearing of many of Dearie’s future signature songs, like “Little Jazz Bird” and "They Say It's Spring" from 1957, and "Tea for Two" from 1958. These tracks feature a stellar crew including Bobby Jaspar on flute, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Jo Jones and Ed Thigpen on drums. Dearie’s Verve sessions are now compiled for CD as Verve Jazz Masters 51.
In the 1960s, Dearie achieved a new level of notoriety in a surprising way when she recorded the vocal track for a Hires Root beer commercial. The commercial was so popular that it led to her 1963 album Blossom Dearie Sings Rootin’ Song, available for 20 cents and two bottle caps. Those “rootin’ songs” included lush orchestration and a mix of ballads and up tunes not usually associated with root beer, like “The Days of Wine and Roses,” Sasha Distel’s “The Good Life,” and the Newley-Bricusse hit “What Kind of Fool Am I.”
Dearie’s next album, 1964’s May I Come In, was a similar pop venture, with arranger-conductor Jack Marshall and a full orchestra, mix of standards and musical comedy favorites. Although the album was well-received, Dearie’s future recordings, along with her performing career, moved back toward the sound she achieved with Verve and to the more intimate blend of jazz and cabaret for which she is now remembered.
That repertoire featured songs by lesser-known writers like Dave Frishberg's “I’m Hip” that she helped bring to public acclaim. But though Dearie often called herself a "songwriter's singer," she was also a songwriter herself, whose partner/lyricists included Johnny Mercer, with whom she collaborated on “I’m Shadowing You,” a romantic take on the late-1950s Red Scare.
Frustrated with the lack of opportunities for jazz musicians in the rock era, Dearie launched her own label, Daffodil Records, in 1974. Her first album on Daffodil, Blossom Dearie Sings, includes at least one song that has an interesting background and would later be a cult classic. When John Lennon took the stage for a live British television show on which Dearie was also scheduled to appear, he announced, “I’m going to do my Blossom voice” and moved right up into his high register. Dearie, tickled by the experience and by the admiration of a Beatle, wrote the song “Dear John,” in which Jim Council’s lyrics celebrate Dearie “digging you digging me.”
Dearie released 15 more recordings on Daffodil, including the compilation I’m Hip, in 1998. Highlights from this period include her 1974 recording of "My New Celebrity is You" with flutist Hubert Laws and bassist Ron Carter. She also performed on the popular children’s television show, “Schoolhouse Rock.” Her last full-length CD on Daffodil, Blossom’s Planet, came out in 2000. In 2003, Dearie, the quintessential New Yorker, recorded a single, “It’s All Right to Be Afraid,” as a commemoration of 9/11. She continued to perform in New York clubs until 2006.
Blossom Dearie (originally released on September 11, 1956; now available on CD from Polygram Records)
Give Him the Ooh-La-La (1957; now available on CD from Polygram)
Once Upon a Summertime (1958; now available on CD from Polygram)
Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green (1959; now available on CD from Umvd Labels)
Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs (1960; now on CD remaster from Verve)
My Gentlemen Friend (1961; now on CD remaster from Verve)
Verve Jazz Masters 51: Blossom Dearie
Selected Recordings on Daffodil
Blossom Dearie Sings (1974)
From the Meticulous to the Sublime (1975)
My New Celebrity is You (1976)
Songs of Chelsea (1987)
I’m Hip (1998, compilation)
Blossom’s Planet (2000)
“It’s All Right to Be Afraid” (single, 2003)
Other recordings of interest
The Pianist: Les Blue Stars (reissued as part of the Jazz in Paris series; available as Emarcy Import)
Blossom Dearie Sings Rootin’ Songs (1963)
May I Come In? (Capitol/EMI, 1964)
Blossom Time at Ronnie Scott’s (Fontana, 1967)
Contributor: Sue Russell