Before I dive into the music, I would like to welcome the contributions of some other notable HU Bison. Since its inception in 1867, Howard's students, graduates, and faculties have contributed to the justice system (Thurgood Marshall), the sciences (E. Franklin Frazier), and politics (Ralph Bunche, Edward Brooke, David Dinkins, Elijah Cummings). Andrew Young and Douglas Wilder) literature (Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Neale Hurston, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates) and visual and performing arts (Ossie Davis, Billy Eckstine, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Donald Byrd, Jessye Norman, Donny Hathaway, Debbie Allen and their sister Phylicia Rashad, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Chadwick Boseman).
For those of you who may never have heard or seen Shirley Horn live, this is considered unfortunate. I will do my best to correct that today.
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Shirley Horn was born on May 1, 1934 in Washington, DC. Washington was already a jazz city and cultural mecca that you can read and experience about, courtesy of Black Broadway on U.
Happy Jazz Appreciation Month! Jazz has roots in DC, the birthplace of legends like Duke Ellington and Shirley Horn. At the beginning of the 20th century, the sounds of jazz could be heard along 14th Street and U Street, DC's "Black Broadway". pic.twitter.com/nB9fGDq7dC
– DC History Center (@DCHistory) April 1, 2021
In an interview with the Jazz Times, Horn spoke to Lara Pellegrinelli about her early musical beginnings, when she studied as a tween at Howard University.
You know music is my life Without her I would perish. The first thing I remember in my life is that when I was about three years old, almost four years old, I went to my grandmother's drawing room and played that big old piano … She played the piano and organ by ear … Mom ( her grandmother) played hymns in church. It was a very small thing, and it was difficult for her to reach the pedals on the organ. After I got married, she always came to me when I had a party with my friends and played the piano at the party. All of my musician friends loved her. She was a lovely woman.
“And she told my mother to give me piano lessons. I was only four years old – I could neither read nor write – but this man took me with him: Mr. Fletcher, I even remember his name. Maybe he's still alive? Well, he got me as far as he could. But when I was about 11, my uncle, who was a very wealthy doctor here in town, went to Howard University and started the Junior School of Music because there were no teachers left to teach me. I went to school and then to Howard University every day. It wasn't like now. I had to get on the tram and go to the university to that old house. They had a building, a special building with the Steinway piano. "
She speaks softly, pausing here and there to keep the facts clear. “The teacher I remember most there is Dr. Frances Hughes, ”she continues after a minute of thought. "I will never forget her. At first I was afraid of her, but I respected her because she was a positive teacher. You know what I mean? She started me with Chopin right away. Didn't give me a little dingle-ingle-ingle- Given stuff. And I loved it. "
This love of music would give a scholarship to the Horn Julliard School in New York– A scholarship she did not receive because of the expense and her mother's concern that she would be too far from home. Instead, she went to Howard University, where she switched from classical music to jazz. At the age of 20 she had founded her own jazz trio.
Her debut album was Embers and Ashes, which was released in 1961. Here she effortlessly sings "I Thought About You", a song composed by Jimmy Van Heusen in 1939 with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Embers and ashes would result in a life-changing event for Horn, as Rashod D. Ollison wrote for the Baltimore Sun.
Newly married at the time to (Shep) Deering, a dark-eyed, handsome man she was at the Atlas Theater of D.C. Horn was visiting her mother-in-law in Virginia when she received a strange call.
"We went to my mother-in-law's farm somewhere in Danville," recalls Horn. "The phone rang and it was for me. I didn't know who it was. I said, 'Hello.'" She mimicked Davis' raspy voice and went on, "" Shirley? This is Miles Davis. I have some people I want you to meet in New York. "Me said, "Who is that?" I thought it was a joke. "
Horn pondered the invitation for a day or so before going to Davis in New York, where she found his children singing the songs on Embers and Ashes. Davis was king of New York's jazz scene at the time and had made sure that Horn split the bill with him at the Village Vanguard, a prestigious Greenwich Village venue. It was a prestigious performance for a newcomer like Horn. Club owner Max Gordon didn't even know who she was.
"Miles insisted that I play on the bill," says Horn. "If I didn't play, he wouldn't play either."
Listen to the young horn who lived in 1961. The album was originally mislabelled and released as Shirley Horn Live at Village Vanguard, even though it was actually recorded in Gaslight Square, St. Louis. It was later republished with the correct title. From this album, this is Cole Porter's "Love for Sale".
But as Andrew Gilbert wrote in February, three decades would pass before the album that changed the course of Horn's career.
Shirley Horn was hardly a cult figure when I first saw her perform on May 8, 1989, making her debut at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. The experience was transformative and even as a relative newbie I knew Horn was an artist of the highest order. It wasn't just the way her ballads seemed to defy the flow of time, each beat hung on the feather-light brushstrokes of her drummer. Or her telegraphic piano work, which enveloped her burnished, copper-colored singing in piquant-sounding harmonies. Horn remade every song in this Santa Cruz performance with its inimitable sound, a mixture of vulnerability, aching sensuality and imperious command.
The puzzle was why she hadn't broken through in her mid-50s. Horn had released a handful of albums in the first half of the 1960s and then spent nearly a decade without recording, rarely performing outside of Washington DC while she was raising her daughter. The release of four award-winning albums for the well-respected Danish label Steeplechase from 1979 to 1985 didn't do much to raise her profile in the US, but Horn, who died in 2005 at the age of 71, wasn't meant for darkness.
Richard Seidel signed it in 1987 as part of the revitalization of the vaunted label with Verve and after a few well-received albums they found an ideal recipe to demonstrate Horn's unique talent. With a host of guest artists, including long-time fans Toots Thielemans and Miles Davis, Horn's prophetically titled album "You Won & # 39; t Forget Me" was released 30 years ago on February 12, 1991, transforming it from a hidden treasure into a jazz greatest Stars.
Here is the remarkable title track from You Won & # 39; t Forget Me.
Davis died seven months after his release.
After the success of "You will not forget me", Horn recorded "Here & # 39; s to Life".
The title track offers the kind of optimism we can take advantage of right now.
Horn's crowning professional success took place in 1998.
Shirley Horn was nominated for nine Grammy Awards during her career and won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance at the 41st Grammy Awards for I Remember Miles, a tribute to her friend and mentor (the album cover includes a Miles Davis- Drawing of both)
– Ira (@TheJazzSoul) April 5, 2021
She is here with “Blue and Green” from her 1998 GRAMMY award-winning album I Remember Miles.
Horn died on October 20, 2005, and music critic Ben Ratliff wrote her obituary for the New York Times.
Shirley Horn, a jazz singer and pianist who brought the audience closer with a highly confidential, vibrationless delivery, died yesterday in a care home in Cheverly, Md. She was 71 years old.
Ms. Horn was a unique singer with one of the slowest deliveries in jazz and a very unusual way of phrasing, emphasizing certain words and letting others slip away. She valued her repertoire and made audiences feel like she was cutting through to the stark truths of songs like "Here's to Life" and "You Won & # 39; t Forget Me". She just wanted it this way: She stayed with her drummer Steve Williams for 23 years and her bassist Charles Ables – who died in 2002 – for 33 years.
She lived in and around Washington all her life, often performing near her home to be close to her family. But over the past two decades she has seen a quietly growing revival of her concert and club career that she began in the 1950s, and she has become a star in the jazz world.
In 2016 – over a decade after her death – Downbeat announced a new horn release.
Live At The 4 Queens was recorded about a year after Horn's milestone 1987 album I Thought About You (Verve), which was considered a "comeback" recording that revived her international touring career after a nearly 20-year hiatus – during the she mainly focused on raising her daughter in her hometown of Washington, DC
The album contains a 56-page book documenting Horn's life and career and includes interviews with Resonance Records producer Zev Feldman, who topped the Rising Star – Producer category in the 2016 DownBeat Critics poll. Further essays were given by journalist James Gavin, producers Jean-Philippe Allard and Richard Seidel, longtime horn drummer Steve Williams, singer Sheila Jordan, jazz radio veteran Rusty Hassan, KNPR engineer Brian Sanders, the manager Sheila Mathis and Horn's daughter Rainy Smith.
With nine tracks and more than 50 minutes of music, Live At The 4 Queens Horns offers interpretations of popular songs, including "You'd be so nice to come home", "The Boy From Ipanema" (Horn's spin on Antonio Carlos Jobim classic), "Isn't it romantic?", "Lover Man" and others.
In the following mini-doc, Zev Feldman talks about his journey to produce the album.
I'm going to close with one of my favorite horn performances that took place live in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1999.
Stay tuned for more music from Howard's talented piano and vocalists this coming Sunday, and join the commentary for even more Shirley Horn.