I was talking to jazz singer Claire Martin a couple of weeks ago and the subject of Shirley Horn came up in a discussion about the Cool School. Claire asked if there were many Cool School singers about and Cool, as it does, swiftly turned into cool with a small ‘c’, Shirley Horn (1934-2005) certainly in the latter category, her slow tempi and play-it-down demeanour relating to Cool in the former sense as well, with only a tiny stretch of the imagination. Claire Martin herself is one of the finest modern day interpreters of Horn’s work, her album He Never Mentioned Love released in 2007 the benchmark for interpretations of some of the songs most associated with Horn who was one of Miles Davis’ favourite singers, from Embers and Ashes on. Miles appeared on the title track of Horn’s You Won’t Forget Me the year before he died, his last guest appearance on any record.
Singers don’t forget Horn and last year Gearbox released a new Mark Murphy record, a vinyl EP tribute to Shirley Horn. Songs included a stirring version of ‘But Beautiful’ a song Horn returned to late in life.
New York state born singer/pianist Dena DeRose is the latest to offer up a tribute. Arriving with a strong track record in the States although lesser known in Europe her albums include two Grammy-nominated live albums recorded at the Jazz Standard for Maxjazz accompanied by the bassist on this new record Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. DeRose’s tribute features guest appearances by tenorist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and baritone saxist Gary Smulyan, the latter raucously exuberant on ‘Big City.’
The material covered includes ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’, which was on You Won’t Forget Me; ‘Wild is Love’ (from Loads of Love); ‘The Great City’ (Shirley Horn With Horns); and ‘Sunday in New York’ (Travelin’ Light). DeRose takes it slow and light and just like Horn eases into the song in question with sang froid and knowingness.
There’s nothing fake, and no vocal acrobatics, which would have been so wrong. Mastered real down low this studio album was recorded in New Jersey in January this year. DeRose’s perky piano accompaniment (and B3 on a few tracks maybe a little less successfully) adds that extra thrill. So, once again Horn provides the inspiration beyond the grave that adds new life to jazz vocals in the classic tradition. A must for anyone interested in the art of jazz singing and a new career peak for DeRose.
Released on 30 June