Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Blossom with me


I love Blossom Dearie, in case you were wondering. (I'm actually fairly sure you weren't wondering.)

Some talented person with a lot of time on her hands made the above animation to accompany one of Dearie's most darling tracks,"Doop Doo Dee Doop." First of all, that's a genius song title, and the promise of the title comes to full fruition with the first lines: "Why don't you join the group? It's better than being a party poop." Although I have a gorgeous and growing list of replies to that question, the lighthearted joshing of the invitation could almost convince me.

The animation confounds me, however. It seems to depict a dream sequence, or a shopping trip to the local greengrocer. Or it could depict the complicated life of a carrot. Hell, I don't know, but it's charming, nostalgic and makes you wonder if the artist was a Freud fanatic. It could also be complete artistic randomness. I couldn't find much information about the animator. All links led to... well, nothing much.

Back to Dearie... She's one in a list of unapologetic artists who purposely promote a stylized character in their music. Dearie's is quiet but confident, straightforward but playful, naive and simultaneously savvy. She chose standards with heartbreaking stories (Sophisticated Lady) and sang them as a confidential counselor, empathetic and unintrusive. She transformed downright corny Broadway tunes like "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" into salacious, private invitations.

She's been criticized, of course. In an interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Gross asks about detractors of Dearie's "tiny voice." Dearie says, "It's very funny to have worked and sung for so many years, and then someone tells you, 'Well, you're not breathing properly.'" But she was unconcerned: "I think that [working with a vocal coach] would probably make my voice more powerful, but at this age, I don't think I'm going to worry about it."

In other words, I'm the one with the career. Buzz off.

As a singer, I find I'm also amazed by her conversational diction. She speaks the words with unabashedly American pronunciation - strong R's and nasal vowels - and rarely elongates a word, even if she slows down the song. She places lyrics, almost talk-singing, and the style makes me feel like she's having a friendly chat, telling a story over coffee. There happens to be a jazz pianist at this coffee shop, but that's just fine.

Actually, I would pour money on that coffee shop. If I had any.

Of course, Dearie was the pianist - a pianist first and a singer second. Her sense for rhythm and restraint starts on the keyboard. She punctuates the song with her voice rather than possessing the song with a full-body belt. I envy her musicianship, her sense of comic and dramatic timing, and her minimalist abilities.

In later tracks, she shows off her vibrato a bit more, and this reinforces, for me, the deliberate choice of her delivery; she didn't whisper her songs because she couldn't sing, she chose that character. She laid back on her piano bench, approached the mic with her sweet secrets and became an icon.

I would love to have that confidence. I have no idea whether I even have a signature style, especially since my tastes range from the self-possessed divas (and divos) who came out of the Big Band era to the subdued (and possibly stoned) understatements of Cool Jazz.

Perhaps if I pursue a carrot amidst a rain of fish, it will all become clear. I'm taking a nap.

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