Jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie possessed one of the sweetest, most innocent voices of all time. No matter her age, she always sounded like a young girl, adding an interesting element to more serious, adult-minded lyrics about love and relationships. Yet a whole generation of listeners may know her voice without knowing her name, as she was one of cast of voices for Bob Dorough’s offerings for the influential Schoolhouse Rock! educational series. That’s her on the classics “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives,” adding her special touch that helped to make both songs eternally beloved. Even though her greatest recognition in this modern age may be more lighthearted children’s fare, the beginning of her career found her to be a most serious and impressive jazz musician. The Adorable Blossom Dearie, a three-disc set from El Records, takes an in-depth trip into her early years.
Blossom Dearie began recording in the late 1940s, after moving to New York City to pursue her career. She served as a session musician, making notable vocal appearances on records and appearances by Dave Lambert, Stan Getz, and, most notably, King Pleasure, whose “Moody’s Mood For Love” was a hit. She also sat in as pianist for Annie Ross’s album Singin’ & Swingin’. All of this activity helped to shine a light on the bright young talent, and soon she was offered a contract from French label Barclay, prompting her to move to France in 1952.
Her relocation launched a very productive era. She recorded her solo debut, Jazz Sweet (AKA Blossom Dearie Plays “April In Paris”), a delightful collection of cool jazz piano instrumental takes on standards such as “Blue Moon,” “April In Paris,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” In contrast to what she would become known for, Dearie’s style is very much in the style of Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck, and it’s evident she could have easily maintained a rewarding career as an instrumentalist. Furthermore, the album featured accompaniment by flautist and saxophonist–and Dearie’s husband at the time–Bobby Jaspar. (As is El Records’ wont, The Adorable Blossom Dearie includes a third disk, a compilation entitled Perfect Sound: The Jazz Flute of Bobby Jaspar, offering a nice selection of his recordings from the era, including three he recorded with his wife.)
But she wasn’t completely done with singing; she would concurrently form a vocal group, The Blue Stars Of France, who would have a hit in 1954 with a French language cover of “The Lullaby Of Birdland.” The group’s debut album appears here, and offers up breezy jazz numbers in a sophisticated French manner, Dearie’s vocals fitting in nicely within a range of other voices. They would garner much acclaim both on their own and as studio accompaniment; their final album would be recorded in English. Incidentally, it was here that Dearie met friend and future collaborator Bob Dorough, who worked with the group as an arranger.
Once again, Dearie’s work garnered her attention, this time from jazz impresario and Verve Records owner Norman Granz. Impressed with her work, he offered her a lucrative record deal, and in 1957 she released Blossom Dearie, what she considered to be her first debut album proper, and this time, she sang. And oh, how she sang—her takes on “’Deed I Do,’ “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and “I Won’t Dance.” It doesn’t hurt that she has an extremely talented trio accompanying her, featuring Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Jo Jones on drums. Blossom Dearie is a gorgeous and impressive debut album, and a fine start to a long and fruitful career.
In this day and age, referring to a female artist as “adorable” might seem a bit condescending, if not infantilizing. But it was a tag that Dearie embraced throughout the rest of her life, which found her releasing well-loved albums, becoming a star on the television variety and late night talk show circuit, and eventually the voice millions of children grew up on, even if they didn’t know her name. The Adorable Blossom Dearie does a superb job of documenting the early brilliance of one of jazz’s most adorable vocalists.