How Jazzmeia Horn took control of her career with Dear Love

She’s a three-time Grammy nominee, an NAACP Image Award winner, a Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition winner, a DownBeat Critics Poll winner, and an artist who’s creating quite a stir.

Whether offering up her voice with a passion and intensity that soars from any stage or adding her unique perspective to the compositions she’s contributed to the jazz songbook, Jazzmeia Horn definitely stands out.

Jazzmeia Horn and her Noble Force will take the stage at Koerner Hall on Saturday, Nov. 5. Before that, Horn joined us to talk about her new album Dear Love and her illustrious career so far.


There’s so much excitement over what you’re doing. This new project with a 15-piece big band was a big undertaking. How did it come into play?

After I won the Thelonious Monk competition, I was signed to Concord for three albums. A Social Call was nominated for a Grammy. My way of coming out into the industry was making sure that I can write arrangements that people knew about. I was just coming out and I wanted everyone to know that I’m true to the tradition. And then my second album [Love & Liberation] was also nominated for a Grammy, but it was mostly my original compositions. I said, “Just trust me. Trust me on this album and make an investment. The trajectory is going very well. Everything is going well.” I sat down during the peak of the pandemic and I wrote all these compositions and arrangements for a big band album, because I don’t want it to be late in my career when I’m playing in big bands. It’s very fun. I want to do this now. And if I have to write my own music to do it, then I will. They laughed at me. They laughed! They were like, “First of all, we don’t have a budget for a big band album right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. No one knows how we’re going to come out of this.” So I left them. I said bye guys, you don’t understand my vision. That’s just a testament to all those artists out there: Nobody’s going to understand your vision. They thought I was crazy until they really started to see what was happening. They thought Charlie Parker was crazy. All of these great people — not just musicians. When you have a vision, nobody’s really going to understand it at the beginning. What I decided to do was write a book about my experiences, and I self-published it. Once that book reached about 200 sales, those people started contacting me from all over the world, asking if they could study privately with me because what I was teaching in the book was not taught in university. From that, I decided to start my own online school, and within the first couple of months, I had about 350 students. That’s how I sponsored my record and started my own record label, because no one would actually sign me. I said you know what, this music is not going to go to waste. I’m just going to go ahead and do everything on my own. And I received another Grammy nomination.

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How much of a plan did you have in your mind? When you were first starting out in the business, did you put together any kind of vision board or a five-year plan for your career?

Yes, I definitely did. Actually, the first part of the plan was not winning the [Thelonious Monk] competition. I wanted to sit down with elders like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter and ask them about their lives, and if they had a plan for their trajectory, and if it had gone the same way. The second part of the plan was to win competitions so that my name could be recognized in the industry, and once those competitions had been won I’d put out my own records. Once I won the Monk competition, the path changed a bit because not only did I utilize those competitions for publicity, [but] they did much more than what I presumed would actually happen. I decided that eventually I’d leave these record companies, but let me learn the ins and outs before I do that. Now, I have my own label. It worked out, yes it did. It was very difficult, but I stuck through it.

You’re up there with the people you referred to as your elders. At this point in your career, are there any lessons that you’ve learned? 

Practising. When I first started out, I spent a lot of time in the practice room, and I would miss out on college parties and all the cool stuff. I missed out on so much. But to be honest, it was completely worth it. Now that I have children, I don’t have time to practise. I always tell my students to practise now. I know you’re tired, I know you feel like the world is all on your shoulders and it’s heavy, but I promise you it’s not. Go ahead and get that practice time in. I’m glad that I practised as much as I did when I had the time to.

This interview has been edited and condensed.