Blossom Dearie

Blossom.jpgWhen Blossom Dearie died at 82 over the weekend, we lost a brilliant musician whose subtle artistry and private nature conspired to limit her popularity. There was nothing about her “teacup voice,” as Whitney Balliett described it, or her sophisticated harmonic sense at the piano that could have led to mass adoration. Nonetheless, for decades she was idolized by a substantial base of listeners charmed by her singing and of musicians who admired her integration of vocal performance with self-accompaniment. No singer has been better at playing for herself. 

Once in the 1970s Paul Desmond and I went to the lower Manhattan club Reno Sweeney to hear Dearie’s trio alternating with the Bill Evans Trio. When I commented that there was a similarity in their piano playing, Desmond gave me a long look and said, “Of course.” That point has come up the past day or two in online discussions. On the Jazz West Coast listserve, bassist Bill Crow, who often heard both pianists, said he thinks they arrived at the resemblance by separate routes. 

Blossom’s piano playing was probably influenced a lot by Ellis Larkins. She voiced like he did, and had that same delicate touch. Bill Evans’ early playing reflected a lot of Lennie Tristano… I’m sure he must have heard Blossom when she was around the Village, but I think he worked his ideas out pretty much by himself. 

I’ve seen no more heartfelt tribute to Ms. Dearie than that of my artsjournal colleague Terry Teachout. He ends his post with a rare video that discloses all of her musical facets, including the swing that that was integral to her art. She implied irresisitible rhythm at even the slowest tempos. To read Terry’s piece and see the video, click here
There are two other videos on YouTube that I recommend you watch. I would put them here, but at the request of, I presume, the Dearie estate, embedding is blocked. On one she sings and plays “I Won’t Dance,” on the other, “Lucky To Be Me.” 
Fortunately, several Blossom Dearie CDs are available. You’ll find an assortment of them here. If you’re thinking of starting a Blossom Dearie shelf, this CD has a generous cross-section of her Verve recordings with Ray Brown on bass and Jo Jones on drums.
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Comments

  1. says

    She was a wonderful accompanist indeed, right up there with Ellis Larkins and Don Abney. But other than something for Annie Ross 50+ years ago, I can’t recall Blossom ever playing for someone else. Can you, Doug, or one of your knowledgeable readers?
    (Not I. Let’s hear from the knowledgeables. — DR)

  2. Carol Sloane says

    I read your comments about Blossom. Dead on, of course. And the OP/BB piano blues YouTube is heavenly too.

  3. Bob Jacobson says

    I’ve been a Blossom Dearie fan since the early ’60s and am currently researching Ellis Larkins for a Baltimore jazz history book, so I appreciate your perspective on the connection between the two.