Nov 19, 2012 - Blossom Dearie Tribute This Saturday
Blossom Dearie Tribute This Saturday at The Jazz Depot
A Blossom, Dearie, featuring Annie Ellicott and Sarah Maud singing the songs
of New York chanteuse Blossom Dearie, is “a concert version” of the musical that debuted several months ago at the Tulsa PAC’s annual SummerStage Festival.
That three-word description of this weekend’s Jazz Depot offering comes from producer Rebecca Ungerman, who adds, “In the SummerStage show, we had some voiceover and dialogue about Blossom Dearie’s life. We’re eschewing that this time, and giving the people at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall a fantastic concert featuring the early music of Blossom Dearie.”
And while the multifaceted Ungerman is best known around Tulsa for her vocal performances, she’s limited herself to a supporting role in the spotlight this time around.
“On stage, Lisa Cole and I will sing backup on a couple of numbers, and that’s it,” she says. “I wrote it, I directed it, I got the girls where I wanted them, but I don’t have the vocal quality that lends itself to Blossom’s music. If you’re looking to do an hommage to Blossom Dearie, I wouldn’t think of me as being the one to do it. Now, if it was Sophie Tucker . . .” Ungerman adds with a laugh.
In her New York Times obituary, Dearie -- who died in 2009 at the age of 84 -- was described as a “jazz pixie with a little-girl voice and pageboy haircut [who] pursued a singular career that blurred the line between jazz and cabaret.” A classically trained pianist who moved into jazz as a teenager, she began her singing career in the mid-1940s with the Blue Flames, who performed with famed bandleader Woody Herman. In 1956, Barclay Records released her first solo LP, Blossom Dearie Plays “April in Paris,” But as the title suggests, Dearie didn’t sing on the disc, which featured her piano work.
The next year, Verve Records released her solo vocal album, Blossom Dearie, the first of more than two dozen LPs and CDs she would record as a singer throughout her career.
“An interpretative minimalist with caviar taste in songs and musicians, she was a genre unto herself,” wrote Stephen Holden in the New York Times obit. “Rarely raising her sly, kittenish voice, Ms. Dearie confided song lyrics in a playful style below whose surface layers of insinuation lurked.”
For the Jazz Depot tribute, Maud and Ellicott return from the SummerStage show, as do pianist Steven Schrag and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Tedder.
“Ryan plays sax, a little guitar, and some wonderful flute on a song called `Boum,’ which I think is French for `Boom.’” Ungerman laughs again. “It’s a great French number, and Sarah Maud just kills it. To have them back together on the stage is just splendid.”
Ungerman has similar words of praise for Ellicott. “She has absolutely become a star,” says Ungerman, “and she has been delightful to work with.”
In the band, Schrag and Tedder will be joined by bassist Jordan Hehl and drummer Nicholas Foster, both familiar names to Jazz Depot audiences.
As producer, Ungerman didn’t have a lot of time to get this version of A Blossom, Dearie mounted. Only a few days before its opening, she returned from 10 days in Israel, where she’d been invited to present her play The Good Wife.
“We workshopped it at the Tiberius International Theatre Festival, and then at El Halen in Jerusalem, a women’s-empowerment center that produces the most cutting-edge theater in Israel,” she said. “I worked with people from five different countries, and I made friends with one of the top theatrical critics in Russia. Neither of us could speak the other’s language, but we both knew a very little French, and we got by that way.
“We didn’t realize what a big thing we had until we got there,” she adds. “We’ve been working on it so long, but for the first time, I feel like I’ve put the horse in front of the cart. I also know I’ve got a lot of rewriting to do.”
Ungerman and The Good Wife have been asked back to next year’s Tiberius Festival. For the moment, however, she’s put all of that behind to concentrate on this concert production of A Blossom, Dearie. It arrives at the Jazz Depot stage the day after the Sweet & Hot Turkey Trot show and dance and a day before Campbell, Sweney & Glazer come in to play.
“It’s a great weekend at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall for sure,” she says. “We’re very happy to be part of it.”
A Blossom, Dearie is set to begin Saturday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.