Singer Jazzmeia Horn

The singer discusses her debut album, A Social Call.

Jazzmeia Horn has some big shoes to fill. The young Texas native won a pair of competitions named after Sarah Vaughn and Thelonious Monk in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Her new album A Social Call is both a political statement and an homage to her jazz elders and ancestors. After attending the same Dallas arts high school as Norah Jones and Erykah Badu, the mother of two weaves now contemporary sounds into jazz classics like Betty Carter’s “Tight”.

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TRANSCRIPT

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

So pleased to welcome Jazzmeia Horn to this program. With a name like that, your life is pretty much destined to be filled with music. She is one of the most talked about jazz vocalists to emerge in recent years. Her debut album is titled “A Social Call”. Jazzmeia, an honor to have you on this program.

Jazzmeia Horn: Thank you for having me.

Tavis: And I should say she’s going to perform a little bit later, so don’t go anywhere. I joked a moment ago with a name like that, how could you not be in music?

Horn: That’s true [laugh].

Tavis: And that’s your real name?

Horn: Yes, sir, it is, yeah.

Tavis: Wow. Does music run in your family?

Horn: It does.

Tavis: Who? How?

Horn: My mother sings in the choir at church. My grandfather’s the pastor. He also sings and plays guitar. My father plays drums. My grandmother plays piano and keyboard, or she did before she passed. So it’s a whole legacy.

Tavis: So the whole family.

Horn: Everybody.

Tavis: So you were raised in a Black church?

Horn: Yes, sir, Baptist.

Tavis: Baptist Church. How does that upbringing influence you now? Because it’s almost impossible, of course, to talk to a Black artist, certainly of a certain age, who didn’t grow up in a Black church. But how does that influence your stuff now?

Horn: You know, it’s like you always have to know where you came from and where you’re going. So for me, it’s like it never left. The church never left. I am the church, you know. I am a temple. I am a vessel for God. So when I was in church singing a lot, especially as a child, I was always truthful.

I was always telling a story. It was always about my life. It was always about the good things that God had done for me. And even though I sing jazz now, it’s still the same thing. It’s just in a different way, but I’m still the vessel and the message is still coming down, you know.

Tavis: How did jazz end up being your lane?

Horn: Somebody asked me, “How can you have a name Jazzmeia Horn and you not know anything about jazz?” [laugh] And it was true for me. Jazz was boring, you know, when I first started listening to it. I was 13 or 14. I was like, “I don’t want to do that”, you know.

Then after a while, I started listening to Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and I was like, “Oh, my God, I want to do that” and, from that moment on, I started just like trying to hear all kinds of things…

[TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY]

Tavis: Yeah, yeah.

Horn: Yeah. So he’s a dear teacher, a lot of respect for him. He gave me a couple of CDs and said, “You need to listen to this. This is gonna save your life” and it changed my life completely. I started hearing Etta James — not just Etta Jones. People don’t know about Etta James, you know — and the real pioneers of the music, and started to like eat it in a way and digest it, and it became a part of me.

Tavis: It must be surreal as a child to be listening — somebody gives you Sarah Vaughan to listen to, then a few years later, you end up winning the Sarah Vaughan competition [laugh]. How did you process that, the night you won the Sarah Vaughan competition?

Horn: You know, it was a lot going on, so I didn’t really have much time to process it. I was hoping that I was making my ancestors proud and I think of Sarah Vaughan as an ancestor, you know, somebody’s shoulders that I’m definitely standing on and proud to be. I didn’t have time to really think about it. I was just honored that I won, and the Monk competition and everything else they had come…

Tavis: I was going there. Not just Sarah Vaughan, but then you go on and win the Thelonious Monk competition. When you’re onstage performing in these competitive environments for Sarah Vaughan and Thelonious Monk, and you look out and you’ve got judges like — who were your judges?

Horn: Patty Austin…

Tavis: Patty Austin [laugh].

Horn: Oh, my God. Dee Dee Bridgewater…

Tavis: Dee Dee Bridgewater…

Horn: The great Al Jarreau — there were so many of them.

Tavis: And Herbie, of course, has been very much involved in that for years. When you’re onstage and you’re a youngster and you’re singing in this competitive environment and those are the persons that you see sitting in the front row, what goes through you?

Horn: I was freaking out!

Tavis: Yeah [laugh].

Horn: I was absolutely freaking out. What? I was freaking out. But, you know, I had to say, “Jazz, this is a gig. Don’t think about them because, if you think about them, you’re gonna lose it. You’re gonna drop the ball. Just think of it as you’re performing in New York just like you normally do. Don’t worry about it, Jazz, ’cause you’re gonna get tied up.” So I had to just do that and not think. Otherwise, I definitely would not have won [laugh].

Tavis: That’s a lot of intimidation if you buy into it. Tell me about “A Social Call”. Tell me about this project.

Horn: Well, it is entitled “A Social Call” for a reason. It definitely is a social call. My thinking is that, you know, my grandmother says this all the time and I say, say this, because her spirit is still alive with me. “You are responsible for the generation before you and the generation after you.”

So I took that to mean my children and my mother’s generation. So that means I have to reach forward and push my children, but I also have to reach back and grab my mother’s generation. There might be some things that might be beneficial to the older generation like social media, using it as a platform for your business.

But if they don’t know how to use it, that’s what my job is, to teach them. And there’s also some things that I can teach the youth and push them and help them grow into the future. And that’s what I’m trying to do with “A Social Call”. Some of the tunes like “People Make the World Go Round”…

Tavis: I love that song. First of all, your rendition of it, you killed the rendition.

Horn: Thank you.

Tavis: But it’s such a great song, though.

Horn: It is, it is. And the idea is that bringing something together to where the old school generation can appreciate it, but my generation can appreciate it as well in the future generations.

So like “People Make the World Go Round”, there’s a lot of poetry and dialog that speaks out about what’s going on. Nuclear plants leaking into streams, genetically modified organisms in the food, all types of things like that that speaks out about injustice, police brutality.

And then there’s the swing of the album that the old generation gels with. So it’s kind of like mixing and there’s a little bit of hip-hop in a way that I’m speaking poetry and things of that nature. It’s all like a boiling pot to bring everybody closer together, to knock out the divide and conquer.

Tavis: Well, I think she can show you better than I can tell you. The project is called “A Social Call”. Her name is Jazzmeia Horn. As I said, with a name like that, what else could you do? And this is her national television debut, so I am honored to host her on this program tonight.

I know there are a bunch of folk wondering the same thing I wondered. Give me a full shot of — not me. Give me a full shot of Jazzmeia, Jonathan, in this outfit. You made this?

Horn: Yes, I did [laugh].

Tavis: All right. I just want y’all to know [laugh].

Horn: Thank you.

Tavis: She sings and she sews. So I’m gonna make room for Jazzmeia to prove to you that she’s an all-star. Up next, she performs the medley “Lift Every Voice” and “Sing/Moanin” from her debut project. Once again, it’s called “A Social Call”. I’m gonna say goodnight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith. But don’t move because here comes Jazzmeia Horn.

[Performance]

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: December 7, 2017 at 10:10 pm