Shirley Horn: Embers And Ashes

The singer who made a point of singing slowly evinces the habit on this 1959-60 set, here reissued on vinyl with bonus tracks


Shirley Horn (1934-2005) is sometimes compared with Ella, Dinah & Sarah – but she had her own vocal character. Blessed with a smooth and expressive voice, she was also one of the slowest and gentle jazz singers. Shirley attracted the attention of Miles Davis but didn’t achieve commercial success until she signed for the Verve label in 1987.

In addition to her unique voice, she was a more than adequate pianist, well able to accompany herself at ultra-slow tempos. Johnny Mandel said that in this respect she appeared to have “two heads”. Surprisingly, Horn said that her early piano influences were Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal. “Oscar became my Rachmaninov, and Jamal became my Debussy”.

Embers And Ashes (subtitled Songs Of Lost Love) was her first record under her own name, and is supplemented in this high-quality vinyl reissue by two bonus tracks. Critic Mort Fega in his original liner notes for the album observed that she took seven of the vocals on the LP “at a deliberately slow tempo, secure that you will recognise her complete musicianship”.

On God Bless The Child, she evokes shades of Billie Holiday, while still imbuing the song with her own nuances. She obviously enjoyed the support and contributions of Stuff Smith, Lewis Packer and Harry T. Saunders on the two bonus tracks. Uptempo renditions of Day By Day, Just In Time and A Foggy Day (with a delightful solo by Stuff Smith) raise the generally cool atmosphere that characterises this largely neglected album. Well worth a nostalgic spin.

Like Someone In Love; He Never Mentioned Love; Softly, Like In A Morning Sunrise; I Thought About You; Mountain Greenery; God Bless The Child; *I Loves You Porgy (21.40) – Blue City; Day By Day; If I Should Lose You; Wild Is The Wind; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Just In Time; *A Foggy Day (21.35)
Horn (v, p); Joe Benjamin (b); Herb Lovelle (d), except on Day By Day: Lewis Packer (b); Harry T. Saunders (d). New York, 1959-1960. *Bonus tracks: Stuff Smith (vn); Packer (b); Saunders (d). Washington, D.C., 7 August, 1959.
Supper Club 025