“The bird is me, the Blossom is Dearie.”
Jaye Maynard was first made aware of Blossom Dearie when she heard her sing “Figure Eight” on Schoolhouse Rock and assumed the “unmistakable high pitched voice that made you pay attention” (David Amram) belonged to a child her own age. (Maynard actually performs this math lesson towards the end of her show with some of the audience joining in, number for number.) A seed was planted. Years later, they briefly met. This show is a result of affectionate research. Maynard is not trying to imitate her subject, but rather to celebrate her legacy. A framed photograph of Dearie and her first album stand on a cloth covered table. The Yamaha Clavinova (Keyboard) next to The Laurie Beechman Theater’s house piano, was Blossom’s own. Maynard purchased it on eBay.
“Sunday Afternoon” begins from the audience. Pitch and jaunty tempo are recognizably Dearie’s, while fluency/ longlined phrasing belongs to Maynard. The mezzo voice is confident. Changing a lyric written for R & B singer, Georgie Fame, she follows with “Sweet Blossom Dame.” “I’m Hip” contains none of the signature pauses conveying attitude, but Maynard has fun with her delivery, taking us along for the ride. The song ends neatly with a mute horn sounding vocal wah, wah.
Between numbers we learn a bit about Dearie’s life and relationships, especially in New York and Paris, are read several apt quotes, and offered context for songs. “Hey John,” for example, was penned after meeting John Lennon on The David Frost Show. Maynard sings holding Lennon’s photograph to her breast, confirming the impression of Dearie’s having been smitten. A sweet song, sweetly offered. The dark, evocative “Long Daddy Green” follows talk of Dearie’s hanging out at Gil Evan’s apartment with such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Punctuated by effective sighs, it conjures film noir.
Dearie’s Rules: No talking, no picture taking, and no smoking were adhered to despite the prevalence of tobacco in the 60s. Her notoriously early shows, also against the tide and increasing as she grew older, were also met with no argument. We learn that the song for which she’s best known, (after “I’m Hip”), “Peel Me a Grape,” was originally written with Fran Jeffries in mind and that Dearie was not the first to record it. Still, she made it her own. Maynard drapes herself decoratively across a chair with arch attitude and gestures for her interpretation. She almost gets there, but seems coy rather than sizzling. The number is just a little too innocent.
A cha-cha rendition of “I’m Shadowing You,” possibly the last song for which Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics, is made irresistible as the artist leans into the audiences, strolls across the stage addressing people, shakes her finger, raises eyebrows, and flirts. A second number where this more intimate persona shines, “I Like You, You’re Nice” is an equal highlight. More of this please.
“She could play softer than anybody and still be emphatic.” Dave Frishberg. Pretty arrangements of “Sweet Surprise” and the balladic “Touch the Hand of Love” are effectively low key. Hums and scats work well for Maynard as do the melodic la-las in the fox trot. She’s almost still during the second song which is to its benefit.
This is a well put together, entertaining piece. Material is well chosen. The engaging Maynard has a fine voice, sailing through difficult octave changes with ease. She communicates lyrical meaning with skill and unexpected freshness. Possibly in an effort to avoid any comparison with Dearie, however, and/or because she has big voice capability, the artist tends towards presenting too big. Taken down a notch, this is a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Bird Amongst the Blossom
A Tribute to the First Blossom Dearie Songbook
Jon Delfin-Musical Direction/Piano
Leon Lee Dorsey-Bass
The Laurie Beechman Theater/West Bank Café
407 West 42nd Street
Next Show- Sunday October 28th 1:00 pm
The Blossom Dearie Songbook