Late last year I snapped up a box set of Blossom Dearie’s Verve albums for a laughably small sum of money. Since when, I’ve found no other music as consistently rewarding. Compared to her, everyone else sounds gauche, boorish, overstated.
Blossom Dearie’s self-titled first American album (and her first for Verve) from 1957 is a straight-up masterpiece. A sterling set of songs, with fantastic accompaniment from Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Jo Jones, and her own elegant and lyrical piano-playing, it’s the highlight of a run of records containing hardly a single misstep.
It takes sky-high confidence to be as softly spoken as this. The danger for interpretive singers is the desire to go big, to make the act of interpreting visible (kind of like certain actors who indulge in capital-A ‘Acting’ – I won’t name names). Dearie never succumbed to this malady. She simply sang songs in her small, quiet voice, breathy, intimate, with just the merest hint of vibrato.
Dearie’s good-natured, witty music seems to come, in terms of attitude, from the pre-bop era. She wore her musical training and technical accomplishment as a pianist lightly, she had little interest in provoking or challenging her audience, and there was something about her singing that was often gently ironic, almost conspiratorial. Yet she was capable of great emotional depth too: just listen to her amazing recording of Someone to Watch Over Me (from My Gentleman Friend, 1961), a version all the more moving for the dignity with which Dearie admits her vulnerability. There’s no shortage of fine recordings of this song, but none moves me nearly so much as this one.
While there’s nothing as powerful as that recording on Blossom Dearie, that first record remains the best for those looking for a quick introduction to her music. It’s an acquaintance you really should make if you haven’t already; perhaps she wasn’t hip, but with Blossom Dearie the world becomes a cooler place.
She’s cooler than you – Blossom Dearie, 1957