JAZZ REVIEW : Singer Blossom Dearie: The Master of Understatement

Blossom Dearie may be one of the most undefinable artists in jazz. Small, pixie-like, her graying pageboy hairdo a surprising complement to the high, light vocal sound that is her trademark, Dearie resembles one’s favorite third-grade teacher rather than the durable vocalist she has been since her Paris days with Annie Ross in the early ‘50s.

Opening a five-night run at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday--her first Los Angeles appearance in several years--Dearie once again revealed her unique dexterity as a jazz miniaturist. Everything she sang was focused, contained and precise. And her adoring audience loved every tiny gesture.

Yet, remarkably, even at the pianissimo levels at which she usually performed, there never was an absence of rhythmic swing and drive. Like John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dearie has thoroughly mastered the powers of understatement.

Several of her selections were familiar items from her repertoire: “Hey, John” and the David Frishberg classic “Peel Me a Grape”; a brisk, blithe-spirited “I Won’t Dance” and an amusing variation on “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You.”


Among her own tunes there was an especially attractive collaboration with Johnny Mercer titled “I’m Shadowing You,” with the delightfully Merceresque line: “In Venice, I’ll be a menace. . . . In Paris, I’ll embarrass you. . . . " Dearie’s performance was a small but precious treasure. Backing her, with exquisite subtlety, were bassist Jim Hughart, drummer Luiz Peralta and--most important of all--her own deftly harmonized piano accompaniments.

* Blossom Dearie at the Jazz Bakery through Sunday, 3233 Helms Ave, (310) 271-9039. $20 admission tonight and Saturday; Dearie performs two shows on Sunday, one at 3 p.m. and an evening performance at 7. Tickets for the 3 p.m. show are $17 and $18 for the evening show.