David Amram on Blossom Dearie


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In 1955, jazz French hornist and composer David Amram was in Paris playing and recording with saxophonist Bobby Jaspar. Jaspar was married to singer Blossom Dearie at the time. When Dearie died in February, I e-mailed David for his recollections. But for some reason David's response never arrived.

While catching up with David the other day, I asked if he had ever received my note. He said he did and that he had replied immediately. Puzzled, David went into his computer system and found the glitch. His comments had become snagged on a technological reef. Once freed up, his Dearie deliberations hit my e-mail in-box. Here are David's warm comments, released and reloaded:

“Blossom was not only an outstanding performer with a unique style all her own, she also was a veritable encyclopedia of American popular music, and she was always anxious to share songs with all of us.

“We first met in 1955 in Paris when she was with Bobby Jaspar, with whom I played. I saw them almost every day. Their apartment was filled with sheet music, of songs from the 1920s through the latest music written by friends. She had a repertoire of hundreds of tunes and was always learning new ones, including ones she never sang but played for friends. And she would show you songs she thought might be good for you to play.

“ 'Hey man, listen to these chord changes and how the lyrics are constructed,' she would say, like a pixie-ish professor, in that unmistakable high tiny voice that made you always pay extra attention.

“Even though she was so easygoing and sweet to everyone, she was really serious about what she did, and she was a real perfectionist. She never criticized others. She just tuned out all trash and concentrated on what her perfect instincts told her was important.

“One night, back in the States in 1957 at [filmmaker] Jean Bach's place in Greenwich Village, there was a party and reception that Jean gave for pianist Andre Previn. But when Andre got tied up and couldn't make it until after midnight, Blossom and Annie Ross sang duets together for almost two hours until Andre arrived, and those songs were fantastic.

“In a room full of people who had come to see him, Andre joined us and asked Blossom and Annie to continue, as we listened to them for another hour. Blossom and Annie lit up the room. Blossom spent her whole life lighting up rooms, singing and playing the music she loved. She always made it clear that she loved doing it.

“And she always found the time to share a smile as she greeted every musician (male or female) with a 'Hey, man,' even at 2 a.m. when she was playing in a place with an out-of-tune piano, poor sound system and no audience except for the few musicians who came in after work just to hear her.

“She never complained because she knew how good she was, and she always created her own Carnegie Hall wherever she went. She was beloved by several generations of musicians as well as other singers. She had a loyal audience in the U.S. and Europe who could never get enough of her special gifts, as well as her warmth and far out sense of humor.

“We will all miss her."

JazzWax clip: Here's Dearie singing I'm Hip, with lyrics by Dave Frishberg and music by Bob Dorough. Dig that Dearie flash of ire as a amateur photographer tries to take her picture. And dig her even-tempered struggle with the mike. Neither disrupts her peach-perfect performance. And thanks to David Amram's recollections, the Frishberg lyric, “I even call my girlfriend, 'man' “ has new meaning...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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