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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Shirley Horn born 1 May 1934

Shirley Valerie Horn (May 1, 1934 in Washington, D.C. – October 20, 2005) was an American jazz singer and pianist. Horn collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis and others. She was most noted for her ability to accompany herself with nearly incomparable independence and ability on the piano while singing, something described by arranger Johnny Mandel as "like having two heads", and for her rich, lush voice, a smoky contralto, which was described by noted producer and arranger Quincy Jones as "like clothing, as she seduces you with her voice". Although she could swing as strongly as any straight-ahead jazz artist, Horn's reputation rode on her exquisite ballad work.
A child prodigy, Shirley Horn began playing piano at age 4 and the next year started formal musical training. She became so obsessed with the piano that her mother offered her bribes in an attempt to get her away from the instrument so she would play with the neighborhood children. At
just 12 years of age Horn studied composition at Howard University and at 18 was awarded a scholarship to study at Julliard in New York. Unfortunately her family was unable to afford her money for living conditions in New York. Instead she entered a special music studies class at Howard, leaving after several years to work full time in Washington D.C. She became enamored with the famous U Street jazz area of Washington (largely destroyed in the 1968 riots), sneaking into jazz clubs before she was of legal age. 
Horn first achieved fame in 1960, when Miles Davis "discovered" her. Davis' praise had particular resonance in two respects, one because he was so highly respected as a musician, and two because he rarely had anything positive to publicly offer about any musician at that time. Shirley had, though, recorded several songs with violinist Stuff Smith in 1959 both as a pianist and a singer. Her marriage at age 21 slowed down her musical career, and Horn performed live only around the Washington, and Baltimore, Maryland areas. She released her first recording, “Embers and Ashes,” on the small Stereo-Craft record label in 1961. The album went mostly unnoticed, but caught the attention of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, who tracked Horn down and invited her to New York to open for him at the Village Vanguard.

After her discovery by Davis, she recorded albums on different small labels in the early 1960s, eventually landing contracts with larger labels Mercury Records and Impulse Records. She was popular with jazz critics, but did not achieve significant popular success.
        Here's "And I Love Him" taken from the above album
This album is an early recording that the Washington, DC based Shirley Horn made in 1965 in New York City for ABC-Paramount. Though it received enthusiastic reviews at the time, it quickly went out of print. Unlike her earlier Mercury recordings, here Horn was permitted to spotlight her trio and accompany herself on piano. Her whispery, sultry, and smoky vocals are subtle and languid. Her phrasing is exquisitely intimate and conversational, relying on odd metered timing rather than volume to make an emotional point. 
Quincy Jones attempted to make Horn into a pure vocalist in several recording sessions, something he later hinted may have been a mistake. Horn was also disturbed by the changes in popular music in the 1960s following the arrival of The Beatles, and stated "I will not stoop to conquer" in largely rejecting efforts to remake her into a popular singer. From the late-1960s, she concentrated on raising her daughter Rainy with her husband, Shepherd Deering (whom she had married in 1955) and largely limited her performances to her native Washington, D.C., while she often worked full-time as an office worker.
Once her family was grown, she began touring more widely from 1978 onwards. She is best known for her recordings with Verve Records since 1987. Horn was nominated for nine Grammy Awards during her career, winning in 1999 for Jazz Vocal Album for I Remember Miles, a tribute to her friend and encourager.
Preferring to perform in small settings, as with her trio, she recorded with orchestra too, as on the 1992 album Here's to life, which is highly rated by her fans, the title song being generally considered as her signature song. Shirley Horn kept for twenty five years the same rhythm section: Charles Ables (bass) and Steve Williams (drums). Don Heckman wrote in the Los Angeles Times (February 2, 1995) about "the importance of bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams to the Horn's sound. Working with boundless subtlety, following her every spontaneous twist and turn, they were the ideal accompanists for a performer who clearly will tolerate nothing less than perfection".
She was officially recognized by the 109th US Congress for "her many achievements and contributions to the world of jazz and American culture", and performed at The White House for several U.S. presidents. Horn was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music in 2002. She was also awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2005., (the highest honors that the United States bestows upon jazz musicians).
Due to health problems in the early 2000s, Horn had to cut back on her appearances. From 2002, a foot amputation (from complications of diabetes) forced her to leave the piano playing to pianist George Mesterhazy. In late 2004, Horn felt able to play piano again, and recorded a live album for Verve live at Manhattan's Au Bar with trumpet player Roy Hargrove, which did not satisfy her. It remains unreleased except for three tracks on But Beautiful - the best of Shirley Horn.
Vocally Shirley Horn does not sound like anyone else. Although the way she carried out her vocals was akin to the personal relationship and intensity one feels when listening to Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, King Cole, or even  Louis Armstrong; Shirley Horn was an original. Not a scat vocalist but rather a sensitive vocalist: she presented her lyrics with improvisational bending and changing of notes in an artistic style that is the essence of true jazz.

She had been battling breast cancer and diabetes when she died at a nursing home at Cheverly, outside Washington, D.C., from complications of a massive stroke, aged 71. She is interred at Ft. Lincoln Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (info edited from Wikipedia &

From 1993, jazz legend Shirley Horn performs "Here's To Life" with John Williams and The Boston Pops

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For Shirley Horn - Travellin' Light (1965) go here;

1."Trav'lin' Light" (Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Mundy, Trummy Young) – 2:47
2."Sunday in New York" (Carroll Coates, Peter Nero) – 1:40
3."I Could Have Told You" (Carl Sigman, Jimmy Van Heusen) – 2:58
4."Big City" (Marvin L. Jenkins) – 2:00
5."I Want to Be with You" (Lee Adams, Charles Strouse) – 2:49
6."Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues" (Al Byron, Woody Harris) – 2:22
7."Someone You've Loved" (Johnny Pate) – 2:56
8."Don't Be on the Outside" (Sidney Wyche, George Kelly, Mayme Watts) – 2:48
9."You're Blasé" (Ord Hamilton, Bruce Sievier) – 2:22
10."Yes, I Know When I've Had It" (Pate) – 2:17
11."Confession" (Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz) – 2:26
12."And I Love Him" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 2:29

For Shirley Horn – Softly (1987) go here:

01. Since I Fell For You (7:20)
02. You’re My Thrill (4:26)
03. How Long Has This Been Going On? (7:10)
04. My, How The Time Goes By (5:15)
05. Estate (Summer) (8:44)
06. Forget Me (3:43)
07. I Watch You Sleep (6:39)
08. Softly, As I Leave You (3:03)
09. Dindi (6:14)

For Shirley Horn - You're My Thrill (2001) go here: