Special Sections » Rochester International Jazz Festival

INTERVIEW: Jazzmeia Horn

by

comment

She was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, where her grandmother gave her a name that would prove to be prescient. "Jazzmeia" flowed nicely with her last name, Horn, but what are the odds she would grow into a sensational singer and breathe new life into a field once occupied by greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan? Jazzmeia Horn's got it all: incredible range, flawless phasing, and gorgeous tone.

Horn attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas before heading to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. After graduating, things began to move quickly for her.

In 2013, Horn took first place in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. She followed that, in 2015, by winning first prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Horn recorded her first album, "A Social Call," last year and earned her first Grammy Award nomination.

In January, Horn's electrifying performance of the jazz standard "Moanin," complete with some wonderfully wild scat-singing, brought the Grammy audience to its feet.

Horn's tour schedule has taken her all over the world. She found time recently to answer a few CITY questions by email. An edited version is below.

CITY: When you were growing up, how did the name your grandmother gave you affect you?

Jazzmeia Horn: It didn't because I didn't like jazz music until I was in middle school, then people started asking me why I didn't sing jazz. Until then, I was steeped in singing gospel music with the rest of my musical family.

What were you listening to growing up? Who were/are your favorite singers?

Rachelle Ferrell, Ledisi, Erykah Badu, Eartha Kitt, Earth, Wind and Fire, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.

Your scat-singing is so strong. What instrumentalists have influenced you?

Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Louis Armstrong.

What was your experience like in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition?

I loved the audience. I loved the variety of vocalists they had in the competition. It was also great to meet all of the phenomenal people who were judges — Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gretchen Parlato, Freddy Cole, Patti Austin, and Al Jarreau.

When I listened to you sing "Moanin'" I couldn't help wondering how many octaves are in your vocal range. Some of your singing reminds me of the late (and great) Minnie Riperton.

Thank you! I've never heard that! I think I have a four octave vocal range.

On your album, "A Social Call," your introduction to "People Make the World Go Round" is highly political. Why is it important to bring this into your music?

I am not trying to be political, but I just have to deal with the things going on in society, and I have to sing about those things on a consistent basis. 

At the start of "Afro Blue," you expand the vocal vocabulary with all sorts of sounds. What's behind this unusual and innovative approach? 

As I was thinking about the title and the lyrics, I was emoting what came to my mind: "think of a land, my soul is from..."

In the middle of that track you engage in a contemporary rap-like section called "Eye See You." Are you purposely fusing the past with the present in your performance?

Yes, because I was taught by my grandmother that I am responsible for the generation before me and after me. 

Your appearance on stage, in African clothing, is striking. Why is it important to you to bring your African roots visually to your music which, of course, has African roots?

It is important for me to honor my ancestors and to pay homage to my culture and to those who came before me. I stand on their shoulders and they deserve my honor and my respect.

What is the best experience you've ever had singing?

The Grammy performance ranks up there, but I don't think it was the best experience I've had. It was just that it was at the Grammys and I was so excited to be there.

Jazzmeia Horn performs Wednesday, June 27, at Temple Building Theater, 50 Liberty Pole Way. 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. $30 or a Club Pass. theartistryofjazzhorn.com.

In This Guide...

Add a comment