A Bristling Exuberance: Shirley Horn, You Won’t Forget Me

By Daniel Garrett

Shirley Horn, You Won’t Forget Me
Arranged by Shirley Horn
Produced by Richard Siegel
Co-Produced by Joel E. Siegel
Verve/Polygram, 1990/1991

Contemplative, loving, judging, remembering—that is the voice of singer and pianist Shirley Horn in “The Music that Makes Me Dance” from her album You Won’t Forget Me; and it is a song in which Shirley Horn’s warm piano uses silence as much as musical notes. Jaunty is “Come Dance with Me,” in which Horn asks (and simultaneously answers), “What is dancing but making love set to music?,” a question that reverberates, with a sumptuous pleasure that spreads. Shirley Horn is sultry, teasing, comfortable, firm, in “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’,” accompanied by the bluesy comment of Wynton Marsalis’s trumpet.

Shirley Horn’s way with a song does much that I love in different arts: it expresses and interprets, it goes beyond eloquence and creates elegance, and it gives pleasure. Shirley Horn (1934-2005) had a long career, but she is one of the singers—along with Abbey Lincoln, to name another— whose work many could hear more clearly in the last years (rather than the prime years) of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, singers whose reputations did not leave a lot of oxygen for the breath of others. Shirley Horn began playing piano when she was very young, and Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Kelly have been named as two of her influences; and Horn’s first album Embers and Ashes (1960) won Miles Davis’s lasting regard. Despite some early acclaim, Horn gave up a part of her career to take care of a daughter. Her albums include among others Loads of Love (1963), Travelin’ Light (1965), A Lazy Afternoon (1978), Softly (1988), Close Enough for Love (1989), Here’s to Life (1992), Light Out of Darkness (1993), You’re My Thrill (2001), and May the Music Never End (2003). The anthology But Beautiful: The Best of Shirley Horn was produced in 2005.

On Shirley Horn’s You Won’t Forget Me, “Beautiful Love” is a song that seems to give words to the most private reveries; and the harmonica within it is horn-like, flittering, possibly shy and a little sad, with a passing sadness, before a new hope. Horn’s piano is insistent in “Come Back to Me,” matching Horn’s singing, which has a bristling exuberance, an impatience. “Too Late Now” is wistfully remembering. “I Just Found Out About Love” has a fierce joy; and in it Steve Williams’ faltering, prominent beat suggests the tumult of love. Shirley Horn’s line readings are so resplendent, so full of hints and nuances, so very thoughtful; and in “It Had to Be You” she invests the song with appreciation, conviction, pleasure (and Branford Marsalis’s sax playing is beautiful): “nobody else gave me a thrill, with all your faults I love you still.”

“Soothe Me” is a commanding, lusty ballad; and “Foolin’ Myself” a fast-paced self-chastisement. Horn quietly draws out the lyrics in a way that creates drama in “If You Go,” suggesting probable desolation; and she finds the space between sensuality and sorrow and makes it perceptible to others. “You Stepped Out of A Dream” is an enchanted and enchanting flirtation, with a spirit that becomes celebratory. Miles Davis’s trumpet is brassy, contemplative, wandering from a stroll to a gallop in “You Won’t Forget Me.” Closing the collection is “All My Tomorrows,” which is confident and resigned regarding the difficulties of life. What a great album Shirley Horn’s You Won’t Forget Me is, great, great, great!

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com