With her delicate, little girl-like voice, Blossom Dearie (1924-2009) wasn’t to everyone’s taste. But although her detractors dismissed her as being too twee, Dearie was not the ingenue or fragile flower some imagined; rather, she was an astute musical sophisticate whose performances often abounded with wit and wordplay. Her uniqueness was recognised by Miles Davis, a musician who rarely lavished praise on others but who once described Dearie as “the only white woman who had soul.” Because of her individualistic approach to The Great American Songbook, she became something of a cult sensation and has attracted celebrity fans that range from Kylie Minogue and Georgie Fame to Elliott Smith. Mostly, Dearie is remembered for the six albums she recorded for Verve Records in a fecund period between 1957 and 1960 but this new 6-CD compilation shines a light on a fascinating, and mostly forgotten, later period in the singer’s life and career.
Discover Who I Am begins its story in 1966 when Dearie, whose career began to wane in the US, decided to move to London after appearing at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. She signed a deal with Fontana that year, which resulted in two well-received live albums (Blossom Time At Ronnie Scott’s and Sweet Blossom Dearie) and a couple of studio outings: 1967’s Soon It’s Gonna Rain, which is reissued for the first time, and 1970’s That’s Just The Way I Want To Be. The two live albums reveal what a magnetic stage performer Dearie was, able to captivate her audience with subtle vocal inflections and witty patter between songs.
Perhaps more importantly, in terms of her career and evolution as an artist, Dearie’s sojourn in London witnessed her transformation into a fully-fledged songwriter; one of the key songs she wrote was a jazz waltz called ‘Sweet Georgie Fame,’ a tribute to the same-named British Mod icon. During the same period, Dearie also wrote songs about two other notable British singers: the infectious ‘Hey John,’ which was written about John Lennon, whom she ran into on a TV chat show, and ‘Dusty Springfield,’ a dreamy, floral ballad about the ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’ singer. Lavish orchestral versions of Dearie’s three celebrity-referencing tunes appear on the album That’s Just The Way I Want To Be, one of the highlights of the box set which also contains ‘I Like London In The Rain,’ which finds Dearie’s delightful gossamer-thin voice counterpointed by Harold McNair’s keening saxophone.
The box set’s piece de resistance is its treasure trove of previously unreleased tracks which were recovered from tapes found in Dearie’s house after she died. There are 27 in all, and they range from jazz standards (‘My Favorite Things’) to a Beatles number (George Harrison’s ‘Something’) and silky bossa nova grooves (‘Wave’). Among them are also her indelible interpretations of well-known songs from the canons of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, and Simon & Garfunkel. The set is beautifully packaged and comes with an 80-page hardback book featuring a remarkably insightful essay by Dearie’s friend Jaime Smith and lots of rare photographs. This a superb and lovingly curated tribute to a singular and much-missed artist.