Late-acclaimed Margo Guryan dies at 84

In the late ’90s, Margo Guryan’s husband David Rosner opened an envelope that had arrived in the mail from Japan, and the two were surprised at what it contained: a royalty check generated from sales. from Mrs. Guryan’s album “Take a Picture. “

The surprise was that the record – her only album at that time – had been released some three decades earlier, in 1968. Ms. Guryan still bore the memory of having seen it, soon after its release, languish in the bin. at a discount from a New York Record Store.

The album, full of rhythmically complex yet alluring and melodic love songs about love, was dead quickly because Ms. Guryan, an enthusiastic but reluctant singer-songwriter, declined her record label’s request for it. promote by touring and appearing on television. .

Yet decades later, with the digital age facilitating both word of mouth and music sharing, adventurous listeners discovered it – first in Japan, then in Europe, and finally in the United States – United, where in 2000 Franklin Castle Recordings reissued it, followed the following year with “25 Demos”, a collection of other recordings of his own. Ms Guryan, who was then in her 60s and had settled into an anonymous career as a music teacher, had an unexpected explosion of something akin to stardom.

“It’s still amazing for me to see something resurface after 30 years,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “People say I’ve been rediscovered. It’s not true, I was discovered.

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

Jonathan Rosner, his stepson, confirmed the death.

As a songwriter, Ms. Guryan was best known for “Sunday Morning”, which became a Top 40 hit (with the dropped “g” of “Morning”) for Spanky and Our Gang in 1968 and was also recorded by singer Oliver and others. Another of his songs, “Think of Rain”, has also been recorded by several singers, including Claudine Longet, Jackie DeShannon and Malcolm McNeill.

But the re-release of “Take a Picture” and the follow-up demo album brought a new appreciation of Ms. Guryan as someone who, her own insecurities aside, performed her own songs better than almost anyone. else. The records, wrote JR Jones in The Chicago Reader in 2002, “reveal one of the most unrecognized talents of this explosively creative era, a reluctant singer whose songs, perversely, were inseparable from her voice.”

Margo Guryan was born September 20, 1937 in Hempstead, NY, on Long Island, and grew up in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens. Both of her parents played the piano, but not professionally, and she started taking lessons when she was 6 years old.

She developed an interest in jazz early on and, once enrolled at Boston University, made it a point to take a course in jazz history taught by Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein. , who also owned a Boston nightclub, Storyville. He befriended her and let her slip into the club through a side door, since she was a minor. Once, when the pianist who was to play intermission at a Miles Davis Quintet engagement failed to show up, the club manager persuaded her to replace him; Mr. Davis, she said, gave her a “Yeah, baby!”

But, as will be the case later with his pop work, performance is not his priority. She has often said that she changed her field of study at Boston University to switch from piano to composition just to avoid having to give a senior recital.

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

She began to be successful 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 a student at the Lenox School of Jazz, a summer jazz education program in Massachusetts. Saxophonist and free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman was also a student there. After graduating from college, Ms. Guryan went to work for MJQ Music, a jazz publisher, who asked her to put the lyrics to Coleman’s composition “Lonely Woman”. This version was recorded by Mrs. Connor in 1962, among other singers.

Credit…via Jonathan Rosner

That same year, Harry Belafonte included his song “I’m on My Way to Saturday” on his album “The Many Moods of Belafonte”. That, she told It’s Psychedelic Baby, brought her a $ 1,500 paycheck, her biggest to date.

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

In 1966 his friend Dave Frishberg, the pianist and songwriter (died November 17), changed his musical direction when he came to his apartment in Greenwich Village to play him an exciting new record: the ambitious “Pet Sounds “by the Beach Boys. “The track” God Only Knows “particularly caught his attention.

“Margo was blown away and thought it was better and more interesting than anything going on in jazz at the time,” Jonathan Rosner, a music editor, said 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 married in 1970, signed her with the music publisher April-Blackwood Music. He took demos that she had made of his songs to record companies, trying to interest their artists.

“A record company manager asked, ‘Why don’t we record it? ”, Recalled Ms. Guryan in a 2015 interview with the music publication LA Record.

Ms. Guryan had a flaw in her singing voice. (“I have a scale jump, just around the floor above middle C,” she told the Chicago Reader. “Above that I can sing, but it’s almost falsetto . Underneath, I can sing out loud. “) As they proceeded to record the songs that would become” Take a Picture, “Mr. Rosner suggested to dub her voice, a recording technique in which the singer sing a track twice; this trick not only overcame the flaw, but also gave her vocals an ethereal quality that three decades later would be a perfect fit for the record for an era that favored hissing singer-songwriters.

It was all in the future. First had a fateful meeting with Larry Uttal, the president of the label that released the album, Bell Records. He described his plans for her to promote the record with lip-synced TV appearances and live broadcasts.

“I sat there and shook my head from side to side,” she said years later. “After a frustrating half hour or so – I am sure he and I are sure – we left, and the promotion on the record immediately took a nosedive.”

An early marriage to trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer ended in divorce. David Rosner passed away in 2017. In addition to her stepson, Ms. Guryan is survived by two grandchildren.

After the death of her album in the late 1960s, Ms. Guryan continued to write the occasional song, including political songs inspired by Watergate and a speech by President George W. Bush. Another project, an extension of her work as a music teacher, was “The Chopsticks Variations”, a group of fanciful elaborations on the familiar piano exercise known to countless children – she wrote a variation of ragtime, one of boogie-woogie and 12 others. . The works were so popular in sheet music that in 2009 she released them on CD.