Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy birthday, Ms. Horn

Shirley Horn would have been 73 today were she still alive. The Wikipedia article is a nice survey of her career; I'll just add my sentiment that Horn is someone whom, if you like good jazz piano and singing, you need to know about.

Here are links to two of her songs, "Come Dance with Me" and "The Music that Makes Me Dance." Both are from her 1991 album, You Won't Forget Me.

Her voice's timbre and delivery, you'll hear, are like a slightly darker-sounding Diana Krall. But, much as I like Krall, Horn can sing rings around her. What I like about her work--and what is often missing from Krall's singing--is that, listening to her, you immediately know a) that she knows exactly where she's heading, even if you don't; and, therefore, b) that nothing is wasted--neither the notes she sings nor the spaces between them. There's no flash, just her effortless, direct emotional engagement with the song. Her spare approach sets her apart from singers like Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, but she's not as world-weary as Billie Holiday. You can hear in her voice what so attracted Miles Davis to her singing when he discovered her in 1960; in fact, it's hard for me not to think of her vocal style as analogous to Davis' approach to the trumpet. "Come Dance with Me" swings, though in a minimalist sort of way. "The Music that Makes Me Dance," though, has Horn singing in the style she was best known for--a ballad style that someone in the Wikipedia article accurately describes as "glacial." It clocks in at 6:32; her version of "It Had to Be You" is 6:49, and there are other songs that are longer still.

"Glacial" is not a bad thing, especially when you have a vocalist whom you never want to stop singing.

Bonus: Speaking of "glacial," here is "If You Go": some of the most intimate 9 minutes of listening I know of.


No comments: