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Friday, December 3, 2021

Margo Guryan, whose album received belated recognition, dies at 84

In the late 1990s, Margo Guryan’s husband, David Rosner, opened an envelope that had arrived by mail from Japan, and they were both surprised at what it contained: a check for royalties from the sale of Ms. Guryan’s Take a Picture album. … “

The surprise was that the record – her only album at the time – had been released about three decades earlier, in 1968. Ms. Guryan still remembered seeing her shortly after graduation, languishing in a discount basket at a store. Music store in New York.

The album, full of Ms Guryan’s rhythmically complex yet seductively melodic love songs, died a quick death because Ms Guryan, an enthusiastic but reluctant songwriter, rejected her record company request to promote it by touring and appearing on television. … …

However, decades later, as the digital age fueled both word of mouth and music sharing, adventurers discovered it – first in Japan, then in Europe, and finally in the United States, where Franklin Castle Recordings reissued in 2000. it, and then followed the next year – “25 Demos”, a collection of her other recordings. Ms. Guryan, who by then was in her 60s and took an anonymous career as a music teacher, had an unexpected surge of something akin to notoriety.

“It’s still surprising to me that something has surfaced 30 years later,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2002. “People say I’ve been rediscovered. This is not true – they discovered me. “

Ms. Guryan passed away on November 8 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 84 years old.

Jonathan Rosner, her stepson, confirmed death.

As a songwriter, Ms. Guryan was best known for her song “Sunday Morning”, which entered the top 40 (with the “g” from “Morning” removed) for Spanky and Our Gang in 1968, and was also recorded by the singer Oliver and others. Another song of hers, “Think of Rain”, has also been recorded by a number of singers, including Claudine Longuet, Jackie DeShannon and Malcolm McNeill.

But the re-release of “Take a Picture” and the subsequent demo album brought Ms. Guryan a new assessment as a person who, apart from his own insecurity, performs his songs better than anyone else. These recordings, as JR Jones wrote in The Chicago Reader in 2002, “reveal one of the most underestimated talents of that explosive creative time — a headstrong female vocalist whose songs, oddly enough, were inseparable from her voice.”

Margot Guryan was born on September 20, 1937 in Hempstead, New York, on Long Island, and raised in the Far Rockaway area of ​​Queens. Both of her parents played the piano, albeit not professionally, and she started taking lessons when she was 6 years old.

She developed an early interest in jazz, and as soon as she enrolled at Boston University, she took a course in jazz history taught by Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Vine, who also owned Boston’s Storyville nightclub. He befriended her and let her slip into the club through the side door since she was underage. One day, when the pianist who was supposed to play intermission during the engagement of the Miles Davis Quintet did not show up, the club manager persuaded her to replace; Mr. Davis, she said, congratulated her: “Aha, baby!”

But, as would later happen with her pop music, performing was not her priority. She often said that she changed the direction of her studies at Boston University to composition with piano, just to avoid giving a solo recital for graduates.

“To be a good jazz musician on any instrument, you have to be a really quick thinker or learn a chord progression,” she told the music magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby in 2018. “I think slowly – I need time to think. about where I’m going. “

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She began to find success as a songwriter. While still in college, one of her compositions, “Moon Ride”, was recorded by jazz singer Chris Connor.

In 1959 and 1960, she was among the students of the Lenox Jazz School, a summer jazz program in Massachusetts. The saxophonist and free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman also studied there. After graduating from college, Ms. Guryan went to work for MJQ Music, a jazz publishing house that commissioned her to write lyrics for Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”. This version was recorded by Miss Connor in 1962 among other singers.

Credit …via Jonathan Rosner

In the same year, Harry Belafonte included her song “I’m on My Way to Saturday” in his album “The Many Moods of Belafonte”. This, she said, “This is a psychedelic child,” earned her a $ 1,500 salary, her highest to date.

“I remember taking some of the money and buying a red winter coat,” she said. “And I would tell people that this coat was a gift from Harry Belafonte.”

In 1966, her friend Dave Frischberg, a pianist and songwriter (who died November 17), changed her musical direction when he walked into her Greenwich Village apartment to play her an exciting new record: the Beach Boys’ ambitious song “Pet Sounds”. “The track“ God Only Knows ”especially caught her attention.

“Margot was shocked and thought it was better and more interesting than anything that was happening in jazz at that moment,” said Jonathan Rosner, a music publisher, via email. “It inspired her to write Think of Rain, which then led to all the other pop songs.”

In 1967, David Rosner, whom she would marry in 1970, signed a contract with her with the music publishing house April-Blackwood Music. He sent her demo tapes of her songs to record companies in an attempt to interest his artists.

“One of the record company executives asked, ‘Why don’t we just record it? “- Ms. Guryan recalled in a 2015 interview with the music publication LA Record.

Mrs. Guryan lacked a singing voice. (“I have a range break, about a G above middle C,” she told The Chicago Reader. “Also, I can sing, but it’s almost falsetto. Underneath, I can sing in full voice.”) When they started recording for the songs that would later become “Take a Picture”, Mr. Rosner suggested doubling her voice – a recording technique in which the singer sings a track twice; this trick not only eliminated the flaw, but also gave her voice an unearthly quality that, three decades after it happened, would have been ideal for an era when singers and songwriters with quiet voices were preferred.

All this was in the future. First, there was a fateful meeting with Larry Uttal, president of the Bell Records label that released the album. He talked about his plans to promote the record through synchronized TV and live performances.

“I just sat there and shook my head from side to side,” she said many years later. “After about half an hour of disappointment – I’m sure for him as well as for me – we left and the promotion on the record immediately plummeted.”

An early marriage to trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer ended in divorce. David Rosner died in 2017. In addition to her stepson, Ms. Guryan has two grandchildren.

After her album died in the late 1960s, Ms. Guryan continued to write individual songs, including some political ditties inspired by Watergate and President George W. Bush’s speech. Another project that continued her work as a music teacher was Chopstick Variations, a group of quirky designs on a familiar piano exercise known to countless children – she wrote a variation of ragtime, boogie woogie and 12 others. … The works were so popular as sheet music that she released them on CD in 2009.

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