Washington, DC–born vocalist and pianist Shirley Horn was one of the most singular and respected musicians on the jazz scene during a career that spanned more than five decades. Despite minimal accolades, Horn’s contributions to the art form are rarely rivaled. She was a virtuoso pianist and a genius song stylist. In a 1992 article in the Washington Post, prolific composer and arranger Johnny Mandel explained that “Horn’s playing wasn't just self-accompaniment. It was percussive counterpart and harmonic commentary that worked with the singing to create a whole, a work of art that was more than the sum of its parts. ‘It's almost as if when Shirley plays, she has two brains. I don't know how she can play what she plays and sing what she sings.…Playing piano like that is a very complex undertaking, and singing with that amount of sensitivity and concentration—she sounds like Siamese twins.’”1 Through recorded performances that best exhibit vocal phrasing, chord voicings, and comping patterns in the jazz tradition, Horn’s piano and vocal performance will be analyzed in order to demonstrate why her genius should occupy the top echelons of revered American musicians this country has ever produced. Jazz and classical musicians whom Horn cited as her biggest influences will be discussed to demonstrate how she absorbed and expertly integrated chosen elements of those individual styles into her own performance to create a distinctive sound and a unique approach to interpreting standard jazz repertoire. Through biographical information, Horn’s career will be examined through a lens of intersectionality to discover how social categorizations such as race, class, and gender might have played a part in informing her musical and professional choices.
Two Heads Are Better Than One: The Artistry of Shirley Horn
Jessica Boykin-Settles (“Two Heads Are Better Than One”) is a jazz vocalist, composer, arranger, and educator. She is currently assistant professor of jazz voice at Howard University, where she teaches private voice lessons, jazz vocal improvisation, vocal arranging, and jazz theory and directs the female vocal ensemble SAASY. She also conducts workshops on jazz singing and gives lectures and multimedia presentations on topics in jazz history. She has served on the faculties of the Washington Jazz Arts Institute (WJAI) and the Blues Alley Jazz Summer Camp; has appeared as a guest artist at George Washington University, University of Pittsburgh, and Cuyahoga Community College (Cleveland), and is a regular presenter at the Washington Women In Jazz Festival. She maintains an active performance schedule, appearing at various venues in the DMV area.
Jessica began her training at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, under the tutelage of voice teacher Dr. Mary Jane Ayers and saxophonist and jazz educator Davey Yarborough. She earned a BFA in jazz performance at New School University in New York City, where she studied with jazz legends and musicians such as Reggie Workman, Junior Mance, Arnie Lawrence, Buster Williams, Dr. Richard Harper, Amy London, Sheila Jordan, and Teri Thornton. She earned an MM in jazz studies at Howard University; while there, she sang in the premier vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue, under the direction of Connaitre Miller. In fall 2020 she plans to begin studies in the DMA music performance program at George Mason University.
Jessica Boykin-Settles; Two Heads Are Better Than One: The Artistry of Shirley Horn. Resonance 27 July 2020; 1 (2): 163–190. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.2.163
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