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Four Songbirds (Part 1)

Spending long hours alone in the studio, I'd go bugnuts if I couldn't entertain myself with music, radio, podcasts, TV and the like. For those early morning or late night hours working, you can't beat these four serene songbirds of jazz.

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A quadruple threat, being a pianist, singer, songwriter and arranger, Blossom Dearie is one of the premier jazz woman of the last half century. Her soft and light little-girl voice sets her apart from nearly every other modern female vocalist, and is instantly recognizable. Many will better know her voice from the children's educational series Schoolhouse Rock! on the songs "Figure Eight", "Mother Necessity" and "Unpack Your Adjectives". Like that memorable children's music, the rest of her catalog distinguishes itself for it's cheerful mood, though often tinged with melancholy. You've never heard a more vulnerable and touching rendition of the Gershwin classic, "Someone To Watch Over Me," which also features many fine jazzy piano fills. Her take on another Gershwin standard, "Our Love Is Here To Stay" is the best I've heard (and that's saying something, as many artists have done so well with that song). Another standout (among many) is the bouncy and playful "The Best Is Yet To Come." Her version couldn't be more different from Frank Sinatra's fantastic robust and swaggering version, a comparison that highlights the differences between the sexes. And nothing can beat the breezy "Just One Of Those Things", which begins with a frenetic bopping bass before Blossom joins in for this quick two-minute track. These are just a handful of her best tunes, but more of her fine phrasing and insightful less-is-more approach can be found. A great place to start is her "Once Upon a Summertime," one of a series of strong albums she recorded for Verve in the late '50s and early '60s. She's been releasing her music since 1974 on her own label, Daffodil Records, and can still sometimes be found performing at jazz clubs in New York over eighty years of age. Go Blossom! Stacey Kent is vocally in a similar vein, and contemporary stylistic cousin of Ms. Dearie, yet distinctly her own. Recently signed to the legendary Blue Note label, she's one of a few top female female jazz vocalists working today. Like Dearie, she balances the buoyant with the bittersweet, and while her voice has something of that same girlish quality, she's smoother and more suggestive. Her rendition of "I've Got A Crush On You" is a longing and honest expression, a perfect song for the upcoming Valentine's Day. She covers the American standards in distinctive fashion, as well as a few surprising show tunes and more contemporary folk songs. Her Dreamsville is a peaceful, lilting album, great for starting the day in a relaxing mode, or late at night before your visit with the Sandman. Or check out her other albums and find out why famous jazz-lover Clint Eastwood invited her to sing at his 70th birthday party. I'll spotlight another couple current first-class female vocalists in tomorrow's post.

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