Monday, January 02, 2006

Remembering Shirley Horn

I had the enormous pleasure of catching Shirley Horn on the Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center back in 2001. As I made my way to the South Foyer, I recalled reading about how Ms. Horn put the raising of her daughter before her music career, which only made more pronounced her prodigious gifts when she did find the time to record and/or go on tour. To the late, great Miles Davis, who discovered her, Shirley Horn was his favorite vocalist. When I entered the foyer, it was wall-to-wall people. The seats were filling up fast. I quickly scanned the front rows, hoping to find a seat, and becoming resigned that I might have to enjoy the show standing in back of the audience. Then I heard a woman's voice, "Here's a seat!" I turned in the voice's direction, and saw three well-dressed, middle-aged women, and the one proffering me the seat, beckoning me to come sit with them. It was apparent that these women were well acquainted with Ms. Horn, and wanted me to share in the experience up close. I offered up a silent prayer, and moved to claim my seat. A few minutes after sitting, I heard a buzz coming from the audience. I let my ears seek out the source of the commotion, and I saw a woman in white, glittering with diamonds, being wheeled out from the stage wings onto the stage. The buzz grew into enthusiastic, but warm applause, as Ms. Horn was positioned in front of an ebony concert grand piano, whose back faced the audience. All I could see of her was her exquistely coifed head, sparking with diamond earrings, her feet, and her long-fingered hands, which she began to flex. After a few seconds of this, her hands rose up out of view, as she simultaneously nodded to her long time bassist and drummer, Charles Ables and Steve Williams, and a luxurious sound of voice and chord followed. "This is heaven", I said to myself.

"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." Read more about Ms. Horn at BillBoard Magazine.

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