The Artistry of… Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn not only played piano and sang, but she played with the piano the same way she toyed with the listener’s ear with her voice. She had a way of merging everything that singing and playing the piano is. Her artistry playfully toyed this way: her music-making signature involved liberty in expression of emotion and a kind of suspense created by the way she treated phrases.

In classical music, the Italian term rubato speaks literally, by definition, to robbing time as a way of expressing emotion that goes beyond something that can be put on a page, giving the artist the license to stretch and expand time and phrase to match feeling. Horn did this in jazz, an art-scape that is a natural zone for playing with phrasing to match expression of emotion.

Perseverance in adversity resulted in a massively impressive adjustment to continue practising her art. In her later years, Horn lost a foot because of diabetes, and not letting that beat her completely, she adjusted to using a prosthetic that allowed her to continue managing the piano pedals again.

Her artistry was and is an embodiment of strength, power and cool, of expression, determination, and a mastery of control over music phrasing to expertly personalize and deliver her message.