Friday, September 4, 2015

The Spirit of Shirley Horn: The Jack Wilkins Trio featuring Alexis Cole at the SCA Jazz Alley September 18, 2015

On Friday September 18, 2015 the Stamford Center for the Arts, will launch the first of its new jazz series at its Jazz Alley venue. The Jazz Alley is located on the second floor level of the Palace Theater; an intimate cabaret- setting .

Ms. Shirley Valerie Horn was a jazz pianist and vocalist, often compared to great jazz vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Although she never reached their popularity with the general public she was praised for her accomplished piano playing, her sensuous ballads and the deliberate phrasing of her vocals. Ms. Horn’s work was so admired by the great Miles Davis that he famously insisted she open for him at Max  Gordon’s Village Gate , refusing to play if Gordon didn’t acquiesce to his demand.  Davis saw in Horn a musician of similar sensibilities, who cherished  the space between sounds allowing songs to linger and breathe. She was a master of the slow burn. She once said of her singing  “ I want you to feel what I feel… I want you to be beside me. Be inside me. That’s the way I feel.”

 She was a principled person who balanced home life with her professional life refusing to tour far from her hometown of Washington, D.C. in favor of raising her daughter Rainy. These choices probably had an effect on her commercial success. But ultimately, Mr. Davis wasn’t the only one to realize Ms. Horn’s talent. Fittingly,. after being nominated nine times for a Grammy Awards, she won the Grammy 1998 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her  work on I Remember Miles, a tribute to her late friend and mentor.  She also received the NEA Jazz Masters Award, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians, in 2005.

Ms. Horn passed at the age of seventy-one in October of 2005, but her music lives on in recordings and in the spirit she infused into every singer that has been influenced by her penetrating style.

Vocalist Alexis Cole has her own story to tell. After studying music at Miami University, William Patterson College, Queens College and a stint studying classical Indian Music at the Jazz Vocal Institute in Mumbai, Ms. Cole decided to join the Army.  There she auditioned and won the jazz vocalist position at the head of the West Point Jazz Knights band.  A finalist in the prestigious Sarah Vaughan vocal competition in 2012, she has recorded ten albums with some of contemporary jazz’s most celebrated instrumentalists. Her latest album is collaboration between her and eighty-nine year old guitarist extraordinaire Bucky Pizzarelli titled A Beautiful Friendship.  Well known Radio Host Jonathan Schwartz has said of Cole, she has “one of the great voices of today.” Stephen Holden of the New York Times called Ms Cole’s singing “exquisite.”

Ms. Cole has often patterned some of her vocal stylings after Ms. Horn and so felt  it would be fitting  to do a show using some of Ms. Horn’s material for this very special tribute.

Accompanying Ms. Cole is the virtuoso guitarist Jack Wilkins. In addition to being known as a master technician with blazing speed on the guitar, Mr. Wilkins has a long and storied history  playing behind world class jazz vocalists when he was with the great drummer Buddy Rich’s orchestra  Mr. Wilkins has played with Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormḗ, Tony Bennett, Chris Connor and Morgana King to name just a few.  Forever  an admired  contemporary player, Wilkin’s version of Freddie Hubbard’s Classic   “Red Clay”  from his album “Windows” continues to fascinate modern listeners.

The rhythm section is comprised of two accomplished veterans. Bassist Andy McKee likes to say he went to the Elvin Jones School of music having played with John Coltrane’s  legendary drummer  for several years.  Drummer Mike Clark is a man who needs no introduction in the world of jazz and funk. Mr. Clark has played with legends like Chet Baker and Herbie Hancock and is probably one of the most sampled drummers by hip hop artists today.

Ms Cole ,Mr. Wilkins and company should make this opening evening at the Jazz Alley a night to remember.

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