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Shirley Horn (May 1, 1934 - October 20, 2005)

Shirley Horn was just in her teens, already playing piano at a supper club, when a patron asked her to sing "Melancholy Baby." That may be the night a great career was born. Or perhaps it started even earlier, when 4-year-old Shirley discovered her grandmother's piano. Or a bit later, when 20-year-old Shirley put together her first trio. Or when Miles Davis -- eight years ahead of Shirley -- insisted that she open for him in New York at the Village Vanguard and Quincy Jones signed her to Mercury, the top label. People may have thought she was on the rise then, but I'm here to say that Shirley Horn's career and her music have been one long ramp up, one slow and very gradual crescendo. On this JazzSet, we turn up the quiet and listen to Shirley Horn in one of her last public performances.

Shirley Horn. Photo © Larry Busacca

We open our Shirley Horn tribute with her trio from the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival, music by Leon Russell and Burt Bacharach. Then we advance 10 years to a Kennedy Center concert. Four younger artists play music from the Shirley Horn songbook. Finally, Shirley Horn comes to the stage in her wheelchair (she called it her Cadillac), to conclude the concert with "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…"

Shirley spoke to the audience before she sang "Here's to Life," saying,

". . .this is such a wonderful occasion. First, I want to thank all the people who came here, all the talent I was able to witness tonight, some I didn't know! All you wonderful people, shall I call you my fans?

"I love you all! And for the wonderful honor bestowed upon me, the best I can do is say thank you, thank you from all my heart.

"I'd like to introduce these musicians. George Mesterhazy came along, and he's been playing this piano -- such a wonderful guy and a great musician. Then, a new guy in the band: Ed Howard, who came along when I needed a new bassist. Ed Howard! And Steve Williams, who's been with me through everything, my soulmate! We love you all, thank you very much."

We won't forget you, Shirley Horn.


Musical Director John Clayton, bass
Gerald Clayton, piano
Obed Calvaire, drums

"The Look of Love"
"A Song for You"
"You Won't Forget Me" -- played by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" -- vocalist Lizz Wright
"Too Late Now" -- violinist Regina Carter
"A Time for Love" -- Stefon Harris
"Take Love Easy"


  • Shirley Horn obituary

    The Artistic Advisor for Kennedy Center Jazz is Dr. Billy Taylor. The Program Manager is Kevin Struthers with Sean Costello, Jean Thill and Sara Waller. Sound by J. P. Reali, Stage Manager Peggy Dahlquist.
    Thanks to Sheila Mathis.
    Duke Markos mixed the concert, with Greg Hartman and Mike Caplan of Big Mo Recording.
    Ms. Bridgewater's recording engineer is Ginger Bruner at KUNV, Las Vegas.
    Our Producer is Becca Pulliam; Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe III @ Jazz 88, WBGO in Newark, New Jersey.

    Copyright 2007 NPR