Her blazing performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards of the jazz standard Moanin’ let the world know just who Jazzmeia Horn is:
Singer Jon Hendricks added lyrics to that Art Blakey instrumental in 1961, making it a powerful jazz/blues shout that viscerally connected to the Civil Rights movement. Fresh-faced, broadly smiling and resplendent in West African-style gown and headwrap, Horn wrapped her mighty voice and presence around the song and made it newly relevant for today’s listeners.
Horn brings those jazz roots and contemporary message to the Hop for a performance with her band on Wednesday, April 3, 7 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium. The performance is part of a tour that includes an April 4 stop at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
With titanic vocal skills, creative drive and inspired scatting, Horn takes charge of a song’s musical and storytelling potential, whether a jazz standard or newer material, such as the Mary J. Blige cover I’m Going Down. Her Grammy-nominated 2017 debut album, A Social Call, is a sophisticated collection infused with what she says is “a call to social responsibility, to know your role in your community.”
Winner of the 2015 Thelonius Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition and 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, she already had won over older-generation greats like the late singers Jon Hendricks (“Jazzmeia has one of the best voices I’ve heard in over 40 years”) and Al Jarreau (“Not only a vocalist, but a musician with big ears, and wisdom beyond her years”) and jazz entrepreneur Larry Rosen (“Jazzmeia Horn IS the future of Jazz!” ). London Jazz News called her “a singer who stands apart … every word, gesture, and ornament becomes an expression of her total conviction and she completely comes alive in the moment.”
Horn now can add “film actress” to her credits: she plays the younger version of the character Pearl Simmons, an aging jazz singer, in the film Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home, currently making the rounds of international film festivals.
Born in Dallas in 1991, Horn grew up in a tightly knit, church-going family filled with musical talent. It was her grandmother, a jazz-loving pianist whose playing was limited to gospel music by her preacher husband, who gave Horn her name. “That was my father’s mother—Harriet Horn—and I guess she knew I was going to be a musical child,” Horn says in an interview published by her label, Concord Jazz. She first encountered jazz while a student at Dallas’s Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and was soon immersing herself in the music of Sarah Vaughn, Rachelle Ferrell, Bobby McFerrin, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter and more.
In 2009, she came to New York City in 2009 for an intense four years of training at the New School’s jazz and contemporary music program. Her talent grew and began to garner attention. In 2013, she entered and won the Newark-based Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition; in 2015, she won what is arguably the most coveted award a young jazz musician can claim today, the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition.
This recognition led to her debut album, A Social Call, which marries her love of the jazz tradition with her commitment to speak to today. Thus, the album mixes evergreen standards (“East of the Sun (West of the Moon)”, “I Remember You”), hard bop anthems (“Afro-Blue,” “Moanin’”), songs of spiritual intent (“Wade in the Water,” “Lift Every Voice and Song”), Betty Carter songs (“Tight,” “Social Call”) and R&B nuggets popularized by the likes of Mary J. Blige and the Stylistics (“I’m Goin’ Down,” “People Make the World Go Round”). Some tunes are woven into medleys with Horn first sermonizing on issues of common concern, giving A Social Call the feel of an intimate, live performance.
“When you think about it, the word ‘social’ has many definitions—you know, let’s go out or let’s stop and have a drink,” Horn said in the Concord Jazz interview. “What I was thinking about relates to society and a lot of things that are going on right now that are not about love or connection. These are not good times. This album is a few things: it’s a call to social responsibility, to know your role in your community. It’s about being inspired by things that happen in your life and being able to touch others. I want to put that light out there—which is why I called it A Social Call and why this album has to come out, now. This is exactly why I’m here.”