Shirley Horn is a jazz diva who needs little introduction. This veteran of song is one of the classic vocalists of any era. But Beautiful gives us some classic recordings that highlight her career, as well as three bonus tracks recorded from a recent performance at the Au Bar in New York City. The first eleven tracks are from Horn’s Verve Records catalogue, including I Thought About You and Loads of Love: Shirley Horn with Horns, which was originally released on Mercury Records.
Horn became a singer by accident. While performing as a pianist in a restaurant/nightclub, she recalls a regular patron who brought a large teddy bear with him. Horn said the man offered her the bear if she would sing “Melancholy Baby.” She wanted the toy badly enough that she overcame her shyness and sang. This led to others asking her to sing, and Horn gradually established herself as a vocalist. Over the years, she spent time working with Miles Davis and raising her daughter. Shortly before his death in 1991, Davis added his trumpet to the title track of Horn’s “You Won’t Forget Me,” which appears on the new release. The singer paid tribute to the man who helped her rise to jazz prominence with “I Remember Miles,” for which she won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
But Beautiful highlights some of the best recordings of Horn’s career. “You Won’t Forget Me” displays Horn’s vocal perfection, complemented by Davis’ muted trumpet. “The Great City,” a swinging tune that first appeared on Horn’s Loads of Love, is a delightful but cautionary tale about a wide-eyed young person who thinks the big city is the answer to his or her problems. “If you come in, make sure you can get back out,” Horn sings. “Jelly, Jelly,” one of the three bonus tracks, is an easygoing, bluesy cut that features Roy Hargrove on trumpet in one of the few notable instrumental solos on the album.
Throughout, Horn is at her best. While her sound is clean and her tone perfect, she sings with the same soulful flair that got Miles Davis’ attention many years ago. To Shirley Horn fans who already have all her albums, the three bonus tracks, while good, may not be worth it. But for those who haven't heard much Horn, But Beautiful is a great place to start.
By Woodrow Wilkins Jr. - allaboutjazz.com
Technorati tag: Jazz