SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: No complaints and no regrets I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets...
JEFFREY BROWN: At Washington, DC's, Kennedy Center recently, a concert to celebrate the life of jazz great Shirley Horn. Health problems have now forced the 70-year-old singer and pianist to use a wheelchair, but not kept her from performing and recording.
SHIRLEY HORN: And if you can't take it easy take it easy as you can...
JEFFREY BROWN: Horn has long been adored by musicians and lovers of vocal jazz. Now, reaching to the wider public, the National Endowment for the Arts has named her a "jazz master," along with fellow honorees including Artie Shaw and Kenny Burrell.
On this night, a group of musicians young and old came out to pay tribute, and play songs that Horn has recorded in her 50-year career. An old friend, saxophonist Buck Hill, performed "A Beautiful Friendship." Violinist Regina Carter, who's equally adept in classical music and jazz, played "Too Late Now." And Jeremy Pelt soloed on "You Won't Forget Me." Taking the part that Miles Davis played in Shirley Horn's 1991 album of that name.
It was Miles Davis, in fact, who gave the young Shirley Horn her first big break, bringing her to New York to open for him at the famous village Vanguard Club in 1961. She told us about it recently at her suburban Washington home.
SHIRLEY HORN: It was wonderful, a little frightening because it was big, really big, you know. All these... and being on the same stage with Miles Davis and the musicians that he had there -- just looking at all the people who were there. Sidney Poitier came up to me and said how much he enjoyed my music and kissed my hand. I almost fainted.
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: Come a little closer and I will sing my song...
JEFFREY BROWN: After several albums and some early success, she decided to stay close to home to raise her daughter. And for more than a decade she kept a low profile. But in the '80s, with her daughter grown, Horn began a series of recordings and performances that brought her new fame. "Here's to Life," from 1992, lushly orchestrated by Johnny Mandel, remains her best-selling album. "I Remember Miles" won her a Grammy for best jazz vocals in 1998.
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: Let me have one smile at a time...
JEFFREY BROWN: Shirley Horn, one music critic has written, "suspends time." She is renowned, for her touching, "oh so slow" ballads.
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: Let me have one kiss at a time...
SHIRLEY HORN: Singing too fast, you can't understand the lyric. So I take my time and sing, spread out in front of me. This is my story, you know. Don't rush, you know? This is kind of the way my life, you know, is-- slow but sure, you know? Walk softly and carry a big stick. (Laughs) (piano playing)
JEFFREY BROWN: Kenny Barron, a leading jazz pianist, performed at the Kennedy Center celebration. He says the key to Shirley Horn's music is her use of spacing, with and between notes, including the use of silence.
KENNY BARRON: Silence builds up the anticipation for the next note, you know, or it lets the note you just heard, it lets it breathe, so there's some space there. Many players, for instance, will fill up every beat and there's no space, there's no breath. But Shirley lets the music breathe.
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: Yesterday love was such an easy game to play; now I need a place to hide away 'cause I believe in yesterday.
JEFFREY BROWN: Three years ago, complications from diabetes led to the amputation of Horn's right foot, forcing her to let someone else play the piano while she sang on her most recent recording. But her problems have not diminished the love of music this newly minted "jazz master" feels.
SHIRLEY HORN: When I was born, I think God said, "give her a big dose of music."
JEFFREY BROWN: And you still feel that passion for the music?
SHIRLEY HORN: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Still learning. Still want it. Gotta have it. Somebody asked me, "You're going to retire? Why?" No. I'll never retire. I'll just always be doing the music that I love so much.
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: There's a "yes" in yesterday and who knows what tomorrow brings...
JEFFREY BROWN: At the Kennedy Center concert, Shirley Horn surprised her fans by going to the piano, to end the evening with what's become her signature song, "Here's to Life."
SHIRLEY HORN SINGING: Here's to life -- here's to love -- here's to you.