In Grace Paley’s short story, “Wants”, the narrator says of her former and current husbands: “Either has enough character for a whole life, which as it turns out is really not such a long time. You couldn’t exhaust either man’s qualities or get under the rock of his reasons in one short life.” I can’t help thinking of these lines as I struggle with the task of trying to write some words about Shirley Horn, the most complicated human being I’ve ever known.
It would be difficult to find fresh ways to celebrate her music. Discriminating critics, including Whitney Balliett, John S. Wilson and Leonard Feather (who named Shirley “Best Jazz Singer of 1987” in the Los Angeles Times), have sung her praises, and so have her peers – Miles Davis, Carmen McRae, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald and many others. In a recent interview, singer Carol Sloane said: “Shirley takes total command and she is sitting at the piano when she does it, which is even wilder. She swings and sings the blues; she sings the beJesus out of the blues… She is probably the best singerpiano player in the world. And that’s the truth… She has an enormous presence at the piano, and I am very struck with it. It makes me starry-eyed”.
Shirley Horn – piano
Charles Ables – bass
Steve Williams – drums