Margo Guryan

Words And Music (Numero Group)

Contact Yuri Kwon about Margo Guryan

Numero Group announce Margo Guryan’s Words and Music, a 3xLP box set compiling the work of the late singer and songwriter, out June 7th, and unveils the set’s first offering, the inquisitive and trippy “Moon Ride,” which is her first known recording (1956). Witness to revolutions in jazz and pop, Guryan earned her place in the songwriting pantheon and then some. That she was largely unknown for decades is not the stuff of crushed dreams, but a result of her own choices and priorities. From humble beginnings to the peaks of her 1968 baroque pop masterpiece Take a Picture and the collected Demos to the recent viral ubiquity of “Why Do I Cry,” Words and Music captures the entirety of Guryan’s career, including 16 previously unreleased recordings and a 32-page booklet telling her whole story. The box set is produced by her stepson Jonathan Rosner, friend and historian Geoffrey Weiss, and Numero Group’s Douglas Mcgowan, Rob Sevier, and Ken Shipley. All of the tracks have been remastered by Jessica Thompson.


Guryan released just one album in her heyday: 1968’s Take A Picture. But, as Margo was disinterested in performing, touring, and promoting the work, the album went barely noticed at the time. Nevertheless, by the 1990s, the record had become a highly sought after cult favorite. Then, a new generation of listeners came to learn about her work when Take A Picture was reissued in 2000, followed shortly thereafter by the collected Demos, supervised by Margo herself, an incredible compilation of unearthed alternate takes and new-to-the-public songs. Guryan’s life in the intervening years remained filled with music; she became a music teacher, kept writing songs, and cultivated friendships with a growing circle of acolytes.


Her early tunes were recorded by bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie, bossa nova icon Astrud Gilberto, the famed South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, and folk hero Harry Belafonte. Jazz singers Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae all released takes on her material, as did pop singer Claudine Longet and folk-rock icon Mama Cass Elliot. “Sunday Morning,” Margo’s biggest hit, was first popularized by soft-rockers Spanky & Our Gang, followed by recordings from torch singer Julie London and country royalty Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry. In 1967, Billboard called Margo “one of the most sought-after writing talents in the music business.”


Born in 1937 in New York City, Guryan began learning piano at age six before eventually enrolling at Boston University to study music. She spent much of her early career immersed in the jazz world, including working for Impulse! founder Creed Taylor, writing for jazz artists, and attending Lenox School of Jazz in Western Massachusetts, where she worked in an ensemble alongside fellow students Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Her peers were, at that very moment, exploding the consciousness of jazz. Margo, a then-recent graduate in composition, had once been told that the highest mode of education is perception. So she mostly lingered and listened. It was at Lenox where Margo became friends with her teacher, Max Roach, who in 1961 even asked Margo to pen the liner notes for his first Impulse! album.


Rosner, her stepson, says, “I was introduced to Margo as a very little boy. She became my step-mom when I was three to be exact. From the moment I stepped foot into the apartment on 16th street in NYC where my dad [David Rosner] and Margo lived, I saw Margo in action – writing songs,  the songs that would become the “Demos” – and playing Bach – rinse and repeat. At first, this was on a Wurlitzer, and then on a Blüthner. I was there to watch “The Hum” and “Timothy Gone” take shape, and she’d play me (on record and on the pianos) songs she’d written earlier. I loved them, and they were part of my life as a young person. But this music was almost like a family secret never to see the light of day – until it finally did. It’s hard to express how wonderful it is – and was to Margo – to see people embrace these songs – sing and play these songs and celebrate her body of work.”


The story of Margo Guryan is one of a woman who dug deep from an early age and was never afraid to change. With her keen feel for tone, phrasings, tension, presence, and lyrics that cut, her name today is synonymous with sophisticated songcraft and inimitable 1960s cool.Her ingenuity and technique set her in the tradition of chamber-pop icons like Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach while the bittersweet candor in her depictions of womanhood suggest a middleground between Carole King’s pop-factory and singer-songwriter eras. But the understated rigor of Margo’s artistic voice is all her own.


There will also be a limited-edition variant of the box set that comes with a bonus 10″ of Margo’s Chopsticks Variations. This will be the first-ever vinyl pressing of that release.