Free Jazzmeia

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Thursday May 25, 2017

From Texas Monthly

Free Jazzmeia
By: Nate Chinen

Whenever the sharp young singer Jazzmeia Horn is obliged to answer a question about her name’“and lately, the subject comes up often’“she invariably takes the conversation to church. To be more precise, the Golden Chain Missionary Baptist Church, in southeast Dallas, where her grandfather has been pastor for four decades.

‘Before I was born, my grandmother was the organist,’ recalls Horn one morning this past spring, over herbal tea at a cafe in Harlem. ‘She wanted to perform jazz and blues, but because she was the first lady, she was kind of pinned down. She wasn’t allowed to venture out and be a musician other than in the church.’

Horn pauses, as if to line up the point of the story just so. ‘She passed her gift to me by naming me Jazzmeia.’ Her pronunciation puts a stress on the second syllable’”‘jazz-me-uh’‘“though of course to friends and family it has always been ‘Jazz’ for short.

Say what you will about the notion of naming as destiny, which has its own Roman saying, ‘Nomen est omen.’ For the 26-year-old Horn, who began singing in the choir as a toddler, there’s no doubt that she was ordained as a musician at birth. Her gift and calling have since led her through the most rigorous vetting process available to a present-day jazz singer’“and now on to A Social Call (Concord/Prestige), the rangy, self-possessed major-label debut that could herald the next big voice in her field.

On the album’s ten cuts, Horn pointedly evokes a few great jazz voices of yore. In her clarion projection and pliable control, she summons Sarah Vaughan, her first and biggest influence. The mercurial spark in her phrasing, as well as her nimble scatting, points to Betty Carter’“whose calling card, ‘Tight,’ is the album’s lead single. Among the other touchstones are Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Shirley Horn (no relation), and Ernestine Anderson, who sang on one of the first recordings of the jazz standard ‘Social Call.’…

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