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Shirley Horn R.I.P.

Michael Fitzgerald

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Just received this news:


On October 11, 2005 Verve issued a compilation "But Beautiful: The Best Of Shirley Horn" that includes as a bonus three new tracks from 2005 at Le Jazz Au Bar in NYC.

Jelly, Jelly

Loads Of Love

I Didn't Know What Time It Was

One hell of a piano player, singer, arranger, and bandleader.

Discography on my website.


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There is so much to say. I was just listening to Shirley's masterpiece "You Won't Forget Me" earlier this week.

Shirley paid some heavy dues. She had her own personal life outside of performance, taking years off to raise her family; she dealt with racisim, sexism, rude audiences, and life as a "local legend" - her brief flirtation with fame in the early 1960s was followed by nearly two decades of obscurity. And then she was BIG - real BIG - signed to Verve, recording with Johnny Mandel strings - winning Grammy awards - stuff in popular film soundtracks - all kinds of critical and public acclaim. But it was not all sweetness and light - most notably the death of Charles Ables, her bassist for over thirty years and her struggle with diabetes which lead to the amputation of her foot.

Listening to her sing "Yesterday" - when she couldn't play the piano for herself - "Suddenly, I'm not half the girl I used to be" brings tears to my eyes even just writing it now.

"Charles' death affected me more than the loss of my foot," Horn says. "He was my other half. Part of me is gone." It's been hard, she says with typical frankness, but "I'm hanging in, kicking ass."

BUT - as she said in the same article, with unflinching conviction:

"I'm going to play the piano, it's as simple as that."

and she DID. At the January 2005 shows in NYC, her replacement pianist George Mesterhazy opened the sets playing trio with Ed Howard and Steve Williams, but when Shirley came out in a wheelchair, she was helped to the bench and SHE played.


Despite the regal stage presence, with those half-closed eyes and her elegant dresses, Shirley was down-to-earth - and shockingly so.

I always get a kick out of reading this and imagining Shirley's perplexed- accommodating-disdain for the questions:



What's your current favorite CD, book, writer, movie?

- I've been listening to a CD by Sting. It's a soundtrack to a movie; it's just beautiful.

- A book entitled "Men, Women and Girl Singers" by John Levy.

- Movie: "Duel in the Sun".

How many degrees of separation are there between you and Kevin Bacon?

- Who is Kevin Bacon?

Fill in the blank: I am the _____ of my generation.

- Slowest balladeer.

What was the most important event in your life in the last year?

- The release of my recording "You're My Thrill."

Fill in the blank: I always have ____ in my refrigerator.

- Beer

Who inspires you the most?

- God for spiritual things, family for my daily decisions, musically there are too many to mention.

Tell us something nobody knows about you.

- I'm a Taurus.

Describe your ideal mate.

- Tall, intelligent, compassionate, sexy

Two words:

- Stop terrorism.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

- Gregory Peck.

What pushes your buttons/makes you angry?

- Rudeness

Squelch or confirm (or start) a rumor about yourself.

- I am going to run the 100 yard dash in 60 seconds.

The last movie I cried at/laughed out loud at was:

- "Old Yeller"

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?

- Pate

Who is your favorite designer?

- Myself. I have a seamstress do all my gowns. I select the fabric and design them.

Fill in the blank: In high school, I was ____.

- Always playing piano.

What's your favorite getaway?

- Key West, Florida


I sure hope the bastards at Verve will reissue the magnificent documentary film "Here's To Life" on DVD. It's a real triumph.

Here's to you.


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From Billboard.com today:


By Bill Holland, Washington, D.C.

Shirley Horn, the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist and pianist known for her intimate, whispery vocals and top-drawer piano playing, died yesterday (Oct. 20) at Gladys Spellman Nursing Home in Cheverly, Md., following an extended battle with diabetes. She was 71.

Always respected critically, Horn became an unlikely star in her 60s with a series of luminous albums for Verve Records throughout the 1990s. Accompanying herself at the piano, Horn and her trademark vocal style also became a major influence on younger jazz singer/pianists such as Diana Krall and Norah Jones.

Horn was nominated for nine Grammys in the last decade. She won the best jazz vocal performance award in 1998 for her album "I Remember Miles," dedicated to her good friend and mentor Miles Davis.

On several of her Verve albums, she worked with top arranger Johnny Mandel. On others she augmented her trio with guest artists like Davis, Wynton and Bradford Marsalis, Gary Bartz and Toots Thielmanns.

Horn began playing piano at age 10. At 18, she was awarded a music scholarship to Juilliard, but financial difficulties kept her in D.C. After studying music at Howard University, she began her career in the late '50s as a pianist in local restaurants and nightclubs and eased into her role as a vocalist. She was a headliner at Washington's now-defunct One Step Down for more than 20 years.

In 1960, Davis coaxed Horn to open for him at New York's Village Vanguard after being captivated by her debut recording, "Embers and Ashes." That engagement led to a contract with Mercury Records, where she cut albums with Quincy Jones and other top arrangers. She also sang on the 1968 movie soundtracks of "For Love Of Ivy" and "A Dandy in Aspic."

Despite critical acclaim, Horn rarely toured, instead remaining in D.C. to raise her daughter. When Verve signed her in 1987, she was ready to expand her horizons. For her 1996 album "Main Ingredient" she convinced the brass at Verve to record her at her home in the nation's capitol. It was a casual affair.

As jazz royalty like drummer Elvin Jones and tenorman Joe Henderson and others arrived from New York at midday, Horn, brandy snifter in hand, invited them into her kitchen, which was packed with friends and food. As Jones said at the time, "When I wasn't playing, I was busy eating Shirley's beef and beer stew."

Horn previously told Billboard of the session, "I wanted it to be like the old days when folks would get off work at two or three, drop by my place, and play till dawn. Good company, good food, good music."

Horn cut back but did not stop touring in recent years due to her diabetic condition, which eventually resulted in the amputation of a foot. She is survived by her husband, a daughter and two grandsons.

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Something to remember her by, shared by Shirley on "The Main Ingredient":


1 - deep iron skillet (or roaster)

1 - 2" Chuck Roast (blade in)

20 - fresh button mushrooms (halved)

3 - cups sliced carrots

3 - cans Campbell's onion soup

1 - tbs. garlic powder

1 - beer (Heineken)

1/2 pint Wild Irish Rose (wine)

After you wash meat (no more water) braise meat on both sides (lid off pot). Pour in 2 cans of onion soup, wine, and beer. Cover, reduce heat to low. Throw mushrooms and carrots in, open a beer, or drink & chill (maybe 2 hours) - taste and enjoy.

Remember, no salt.


and I had no idea about this:



Edited by Michael Fitzgerald
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My fondest memory of Shirley was chatting with her and her band at the bar at The Vine Street Bar and Grill in Hollywood 4 or 5 years ago. Going out on a mission to find some BBQ and fish and bringing it back to her suite at the Roosevelt Hotel after the gig. Listening to stories and laughing all night. What a woman, what a musician.

Edited by Cali
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Jazz Singer Shirley Horn Dies at 71

by Adam Bernstein

Washington Post, October 22, 2005

Shirley Horn, a smoky-voiced jazz balladeer and pianist who was resigned to

being a musical fixture in her native Washington before emerging as a national

presence in her fifties and winning a Grammy Award, died Thursday from

complications of diabetes at a Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing

Center in Cheverly. She was 71.

With her slow, meditative ballads, Horn was one of the leading jazz singers of

her generation and was unquestionably Washington's pre-eminent jazz musician.

After reviving her dormant career in the 1980s, she made a series of triumphant

concert appearances and top-selling recordings that earned seven Grammy

nominations. Her performances at the White House in 1994 and at New York's

Lincoln Center in 1998 were broadcast nationally on PBS.

An uncompromising perfectionist, she worked hard to develop a personal, pensive

sound. Her artistry had long depended on the interaction between voice and

piano, but in 2001 Horn's right foot was amputated because of her diabetes. As a

result, it was difficult for her to use the elegant pedal work that had marked

her piano style.

Later, she would sometimes remove the shoe from her prosthetic foot and

manipulated the piano's sustain peddle with the force of her hip. In final

appearance, last December at the Kennedy Center, she climbed from her wheelchair

to the piano and performed what had become her signature song, "Here's to Life."

Horn was a piano virtuoso as a child, focusing initially on classical training

until she discovered the music of Erroll Garner and other jazz pianists. Her

first jazz record, in 1960, was on a minor label, and she remained forever

mystified how trumpeter Miles Davis found a copy. He appreciated the lingering

silences of her music, similar to his own style at the time.

In later years, Horn won legions of listeners with her exaggeratedly slow,

intimate ballads in which her words seemed to melt in the air.

"I've never known anyone that could do a ballad that slowly and keep it musical,

keep it happening," pianist Marian McPartland told Down Beat magazine. Horn was

a strong influence on many younger singers, including jazz pianist-vocalist

Diana Krall.

Davis's early advocacy of Horn's work led to a wider introduction to the New

York jazz world and enabled her to meet producer Quincy Jones. When her albums

for Jones misfired -- she was frustrated to be cast as a stand-up singer-- she

found herself without a contract and back in Washington as jazz was fast losing

ground to rock and other pop sounds.

She performed when possible but settled primarily into a life as a wife and

mother, demurring from some festival dates that might have given her greater


In 1980, she was attending a musicians' convention in Washington's Shoreham

Hotel and somewhere after midnight sat down at the piano with some old friends.

The performance apparently dazzled many in the crowd, including recording

executives and concert promoters.

She then accepted an invitation to the North Sea Jazz Festival in the

Netherlands, and her mesmerizing concert led to a career resurgence. She

received a contract with the prestigious Verve record label and was championed

by leading critics.

Her reborn career culminated in her Grammy win for best jazz vocal performance

in 1998 for "I Remember Miles," a tribute to her former mentor. The album cover

featured an illustration Davis had made of them years earlier.

Shirley Valerie Horn was born in Washington on May 1, 1934, to a General

Accounting Office clerk and a homemaker. She began her career as a pianist at

age 4, encouraged by a mother who had hopes she would be a pioneering black

classical artist.

She learned on her grandmother's parlor upright and began to study at Howard

University when she was 12. She won a scholarship to the Juilliard School of

Music in New York, but financial considerations kept her in Washington, where

she continued her training at Howard before focusing on jazz.

"Oscar Peterson became my Rachmaninoff, and Ahmad Jamal became my Debussy," she

later said.

As a teenage musician, she attracted a small following around Washington while

playing in cocktail lounges. One night, an older customer promised her a

four-foot-tall turquoise teddy bear if she would sing "My Melancholy Baby."

"I was very shy and it was hard for me to sing," Horn said in her Verve records

biography, "but I wanted that teddy bear."

She incorporated singing into her act to earn extra money and by the mid-1950s

was fronting a small band at Olivia's Patio Lounge, Bohemian Caverns and other

clubs on Washington's U Street jazz corridor.

She rarely ventured beyond Baltimore at the behest of her husband, Sheppard

Deering, a Metro mechanic.

He survives her, along with a daughter, Rainy Smith of Lanham; two brothers,

Ernie Horn and Dale Horn, both of Washington; and two grandsons.

With the release of her first album, "Embers and Ashes," she received the call

from Davis asking her to open for him at the Village Vanguard club in New York.

She thought a friend was playing a prank and was still disbelieving when she

arrived in Manhattan. "When I got there, to sort of prove that he really knew

about me, he had his kids singing songs from 'Embers and Ashes,'" she once told

the New York Times.

Davis used his legendary obstinacy for Horn's advantage, threatening the

Vanguard's owner that he would not play his long engagement if the unknown

singer did not get star treatment in publicity and other matters.

His generosity was matched by his eccentricity, she later told The Washington

Post: "One night I was playing 'My Funny Valentine' with my group, and Miles

started playing from behind a pillar. But he wouldn't come out."

The engagement heralded a hopeful phase in her career. At the Vanguard, she met

actor Sidney Poitier, who "came up to me and said how much he enjoyed my music

and kissed my hand. I almost fainted." She sang on the soundtrack of his film

"For Love of Ivy" (1968).

The Vanguard exposure led to a contract with Mercury Records, where she worked

with Quincy Jones on two albums, "Shirley Horn with Horns" and "Loads of Love"

(both 1963). Despite working with top-flight musicians, Horn was displeased.

"They wanted to groom me as a stand-up singer," she once told the Baltimore Sun.

"And I thought, 'This ain't right. I play piano.' I felt so uncomfortable,

standing in this little booth singing off the lyric sheets there in front of

me.... Those records were not me."

She returned to Washington and resumed a family life with occasional, if

frustrating, bids for wider recognition during the rise of rock and disco music

and at a time when jazz clubs were closing.

While her career was reviving in the 1980s, she began to go beyond Washington

for appearances with her longtime musical partners, bassist Charles Ables and

drummer Steve Williams. After signing a deal with Verve Records, her live

recording at Hollywood's Vine St. Bar and Grill, "I Thought About You" (1987),

became her first major-label release in 20 years.

"Shirley Horn need no longer be called a cult artist or a legend," critic

Leonard Feather wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "Without question she is the

singer of the year, and arguably the pianist too."

She performed before sold-out crowds in the world's leading concert halls and

attracted an star-studded roster of musical guest artists. On her album "You

Won't Forget Me" (1990), she was joined by Davis, who played in his classic

1950s style on one of his last recordings before his death in 1991. Other

performers included harmonica player Toots Thielemans and trumpeter Wynton


In 1992, she fulfilled a long-held desire to be backed by strings and worked

with composer-arranger Johnny Mandel on the album "Here's to Life," which spent

16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart. Two of her other albums, "I Love

You, Paris" (1992) "Light Out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles)" (1993),

also reached No. 1.

In 1995, she recorded an album, "The Main Ingredient," in her Northeast

Washington home. The record, released the following year, included a recipe for

the beef stew Horn she cooked for saxophonist Joe Henderson, drummer Elvin Jones

and other musicians who performed on the record and lingered at her house

through the night.

She was inducted into the Washington Area Music Awards hall of fame in 1987 and

recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts for lifelong contributions to

jazz in 2004.

She was a habitual smoker of Pall Malls and a devotee of the soap opera "The

Young and the Restless," sometimes insisting on changing hotel rooms when TV

reception was poor. She valued her family's privacy and, for years, hung a

hand-printed card on her front door: "If you have not contacted me, don't ring

the bell: The Management."


Staff writer Matt Schudel contributed to this report.


Another thing that would be nice would be a proper reissue of her first two albums.


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