BRATTLEBORO—“My name is Jazzmeia Horn and that is not a mistake,” she says. “God does not make mistakes.”
This powerful statement is backed up by the truth. She is a naturally gifted musician who grew up in a family passionately rooted in gospel music; her grandmother, a jazz-loving pianist, gave Horn her name.
“I guess she knew I was going to be a musical child,” Horn said.
Time has proved her grandmother right.
On Saturday, March 10, at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center will present vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk and the 2013 Sarah Vaughan competitions, singing with a quartet.
Horn’s innate musicality, combined with hard work, have earned her numerous awards and the opportunity to perform with legendary musicians like Junior Mance, Billy Harper, Peter Bernstein, Vincent Herring, Kirk Lightsey, Frank Wess, Ellis Marsalis, and many others.
Her artistic success is much bigger than simply being a great jazz singer. The depth of her concept is connected to her unswerving commitment to using her talents and prestige as a voice for the oppressed.
Horn’s ability to scat sing with the imagination of Ella Fitzgerald, her capability to lead her band with the rhythmical finesse of Betty Carter, and her gift for interpreting a jazz ballad with the sculpted phrasing of Diane Reeves are all very significant.
But Horn is also an energetic poet and activist, a spokesperson with a mission to bring awareness to all who will listen.
A cry for social justice
Her first record, A Social Call, isn’t simply music on a disk, it is a cry for social justice, a wake-up call to get our heads out of the sand, a plea couched in high art saying something is really wrong here and we all need to do our part.
There is a photo featured in the cover art of A Social Call — a picture of a pregnant Jazzmeia Horn with an image of the world superimposed on her expanded belly.
In the liner notes, Horn writes about what it was like to be pregnant with her daughter while preparing material for the album: “Every day I was nurturing a growing baby in my womb as a mother, but I was also nurturing the concept for A Social Call as an artist. The inspiration came constantly and daily from the time I opened my eyes in the morning until I closed my eyes in the night, merging the mother within and the artist within as one being.”
In the record, Horn’s voice rings with hope and cautious optimism as she sees a new consciousness emerging before our eyes. Although she uses strident language to bring attention to the dysfunctional system, her optimism comes from witnessing the elevated consciousness emerging in her generation and confidence in her daughter’s peers to do the same, if not more, for social justice.
She continued in her liner notes: “I drew inspiration from the social issues that exist in the world today: racism, xenophobia, poverty, fear, lack of purpose, lack of the understanding of culture, lack of love, lack of peace, lack of healing, and lack of true enlightenment for those in search of it.
“There is a hunger for change that I felt physically in my body as well as in the universe … The concept that I wanted to present to the people … [is the] idea of the birth of a new conscious generation of people … A Social Call is a call in peace about issues affecting peace.”
Mix of styles
Horn’s program is intentionally well balanced, mixing a selection of gospel, the Great American Songbook, and swinging bebop with songs of protest. We can imagine her lovingly dedicating the optimistic jazz standard “East of the Sun” to her young daughter, or we can delight in the pyrotechnics of her scat singing on “I Remember You.”
But when she uses spoken word to introduce the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go ‘Round,” it becomes very clear that Horn, like other artists of her generation, intentionally uses her platform to bring awareness to the glaring injustices of the world.
Horn speaks for so many of us with her spoken-word introduction to the song: “When someone says ‘How are you,’ what I want to say is ‘well, considering the world is run by corrupt leaders, our food is being poisoned, the meat industry has become a holocaust, the atmosphere is being sprayed with chemicals, pesticides, and poisons, racism still exists on a high level and is still an issue, there are people dying in the world from starvation and police brutality while we waste enough food to feed them; bombs, homelessness, crime, prisons, junk food, debt, mis-education, pollution, poverty, nuclear plants leaking,’ I would say: ‘I’m pretty concerned right now,’ but I just smile and say, ‘I’m fine.’”
Horn will be performing at the Jazz Center on March 10 with her working pianist, Victor Gould, who is a recipient of the Herbie Hancock Presidential Scholarship at Berklee College and a Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz scholar.
Gould’s honors include the 2009 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award. In 2006, he was a semifinalist in The Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition.
The bassist in Horn’s quartet is Nick Dunston. Dunston has appeared in numerous festivals throughout Europe and the U.S. with Tyshawn Sorey, Cory Smythe, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Matt Wilson, Joe Fiedler, Kendrick Scott, Amirtha Kidambi, Jeff Lederer, and George Schuller.
As a composer, he has written for and collaborated with dancers (The Joffrey Ballet School), performance artists (Zoey Hart), chamber orchestras (Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, ESMAE Chamber Orchestra) and jazz ensembles. Dunston is also a contributing writer to Hot House jazz magazine.
Horn’s drummer is Henry Conerway. He can also be found supporting Freddy Cole, Marcus Printup, Russell Gunn, Bill Saxton, Scotty Barnhart, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and many others. He has performed at numerous festivals and jazz venues throughout the world.
Noted jazz author Ashley Kahn sums up Jazzmeia Horn eloquently: “Great storytelling and inspired message-giving, fluid vocals and scat-singing, and spirited group performances ... all one would hope to hear from a veteran vocalist of longstanding reputation. [Her recording] serves as a clarion call, proudly announcing the arrival of a young, confident musical talent with a long history ahead of her, blessed with a name that carries its own destiny.”
We at the Jazz Center are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Horn in an intimate setting at this early stage of her career. In fact, her performance at this year’s Grammy Award ceremony gave her career an indelible push forward in front of millions of viewers. Horn is a star in the making and we are privileged to be drawn into the wave of her success.