Jazzmeia Horn Blindfold Test at 2018 North Sea Jazz Festival


Jazzmeia Horn (left) discusses a track with journalist Dan Ouellette during a DownBeat Blindfold Test at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

(Photo: North Sea Jazz Festival )

In her first Blindfold Test, Jazzmeia Horn—who topped the category Rising Star–Female Vocalist in the 2018 DownBeat Critics Poll—sat in front of a live audience this summer at the North Sea Jazz Festival’s new outdoor venue, Hudson Terrace. The winner of the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition, Horn released her Concord debut last year, A Social Call. (DownBeat also conducted Blindfold Tests at North Sea with Kurt Elling and Vijay Iyer.)

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Afro Blue(Red Earth—A Malian Journey, DDB Records/Verve, 2007) Bridgewater, vocals; Edsel Gomez, piano; Ira Coleman, bass; Baba Sissoka Tamani, Lansiné Kauyaté, Lousiné Kayaté, balafon; PetiteAdama Diarra, djembé; Lamine Tamkara, dam-dam; Cheick Tidiane Seck, shakeres.

It’s Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the tune is “Afro Blue.” The vocals are great. I love Dee Dee. She’s been a mentor to me in so many ways—musically and spiritually. She has so much to offer to this world as a woman, and as a black woman. I aspire to be like her. She has children; I have children. She has the wonderful career I hope to have. She’s a great musician. I appreciate the way she approaches this song, with the drums coming first, then the piano and all the instruments, before she sings.

Betty Carter

“I Should Care” (It’s Not About The Melody, Verve, 1992) Carter, vocals; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Ariel J. Roland, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.

[sings along with the song, word for word] This is Betty Carter. I know this. I studied her a lot. Ms. Carter taught me that I could be free in the music. I always felt I had to sit behind the mic and be serious. I was brought up in the church and was taught as a singer to be serious, to honor God and be reverent. I wasn’t shy, but reverent and not very open. Then, Betty Carter’s music taught me how to relax myself, swinging and listening—her music brought out a side of me that I didn’t know existed. When she passed away, I didn’t know who she was. When I was a senior in high school, after I discovered Sarah Vaughan, I listened to a lot of Natalie Cole, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson. A friend told me I should check out Betty Carter’s song “Tight,” and it tightened up all the loose screws in me. Getting introduced to her was like playing chess and checkers and Monopoly all on the same board. She taught me freedom.

Annie Lennox

“Mood Indigo” (Nostalgia, Blue Note, 2014) Lennox, vocals; Mike Stevens, guitar, keyboards; Nicol Thomson, trombone; Simon Finch, trumpet; Chris Hill, bass; Neal Wilkinson, drums; Richard Brook, percussion.

I was going to say Diane Schuur because of the vocal timbre, but then changed my mind and thought Lizz Wright. I don’t know who this is, but the song is dope. It was simple, but it was enough. Her voice was like soup when you add the right ingredients and you get a slow-cooking different kind of food. It’s not like pizza where you add in the ingredients and then it’s done. It’s a great song and key for her voice. In the arrangement, she started lower and got higher toward the end. [after] It’s Annie Lennox? I don’t know who she is.

Abbey Lincoln

“Throw It Away” (A Turtle’s Dream, Verve, 1995) Lincoln, vocals; Rodney Kendrick, piano; Pat Metheny, guitar; Charlie Haden, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.

[sings along] Abbey Lincoln. I love her music. I liked that she wasn’t just a singer, but also an actress. Her music was eclectic and she spoke several languages, which I aspire to. I didn’t discover her until I was out of college, around 22 or 23. I started playing with Jerome Jennings, who still plays drums with me. He asked me to do some social and political songs with him. He knew that I was doing the Nina Simone songs, but he told me to check out Abbey Lincoln, stuff like “Driva Man” and “Long As You Are Away.” She didn’t have the sassiness of Sarah or the firmness of Betty. It was completely different. Abbey had a wise approach, a sacred sense. She’s grounded. I enjoy lyrics that tell a story. I like her approach that was heartfelt, warm and in your face.

Cassandra Wilson

“Red Guitar” (Another Country, eOne/Ojah, 2012) Wilson, vocals, acoustic guitar; Fabrizio Sotti, electric guitar; Julien Labro, accordion; Nicola Sorato, bass, Mino Cinelu, Lekan Babalola, percussion.

That’s Cassandra Wilson. I know her voice. She’s like a passion fruit in a bowl of apples and oranges. She’s not like an average jazz vocalist. There’s no box to put her in, which is what I love about here. Her singing reminds me a little of Billie Holiday, not in the voice, but in the style that’s laid-back, calm, chill. I like to listen to Cassandra’s music when I take a bath or when I need to wind down from the day.

Aretha Franklin

“What A Difference A Day Makes” (Jazz Moods Round Midnight: Aretha Franklin, Sony/BMG, 2005, rec’d 1964) Franklin, vocals; instrumentalists unlisted.

She’s not a jazz singer. Whoever it is, it sounds very much like Aretha Franklin. It’s Aretha’s vibrato. It is Aretha Franklin? When she first sang she was doing a Dinah Washington phrasing, but then she decided to do her own thing. When she sings the line “what a difference a day makes,” she has her own timbre. I’ve never heard this before. She was so young, and it’s amazing. But you could hear that it wasn’t her vibe. It’s imperative to have artists play what they want to do, not what someone is telling them. That’s a record company’s [duty]: to make money, but do it by finding what their artists want to do.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

“Nothing Like You” (Dreams And Daggers, Mack Avenue, 2017) Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums.

That’s Cécile McLorin Salvant, and I know this arrangement. I love her. I actually got a chance to go to school with her for a little bit at New School right after she won the Monk Competition. We talked about her journey—what it was like being a black woman brought up in Europe and about transforming her energy to the U.S. We’re cool.

Bessie Smith

“Lock And Key” (The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3, Sony/Columbia, 1992, rec’d 1927) Smith, vocals; James P. Johnson, piano.

This was killing. Bessie Smith was so soulful and also kind of funny, too. I’m a big Bessie Smith fan. She had a hard life and she sang like it. I appreciate her because of her realness. She didn’t have room to do anything else but sing—no time to practice or go to school. The music just came out of her. She was a very powerful woman. I could do this song in my show, but it wouldn’t sound like this at all.

Bettye LaVette

“Things Have Changed” (Things Have Changed, Verve, 2018) LaVette, vocals; Larry Campbell, guitar; Leon Pendarvis, piano; Pino Palladino, bass; Steve Jordan, drums.

I think I know who this is: Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings? Oh, it’s not? Then I don’t know who this is. The singer is a mix between Sharon and Dee Dee, but it’s not Dee Dee or Sharon. She’s definitely got some blues influence and the rock and pop. I liked it, but I’m a straightahead kind of girl. I want to have it swing. This is not one of my favorites.

Shirley Horn

“I Got Plenty Of Nuttin’” (I Remember Miles, Verve, 1998) Horn, vocals, piano; Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Charles Ables, bass; Steve Williams, drums.

Is this René Marie? No, I think it’s my “great-aunt.” I was going back and forth between her and René, but then I knew it was Shirley and very swinging. She inspired me with the way she did a lot of pop arrangements and turned them into her own sound. And she plays a great piano in its tone and quality. She can take a ballad and play it for 20 minutes, capturing attention with her voice and telling a story by singing and playing the piano. Everything is solid with Shirley. People ask me if I’m related to Lena Horne, and that’s an easy answer. She’s got an “e” at the end of her name. But when people ask me the same about Shirley, I say, “Yeah, she’s my great-aunt,” and I can get away with it. Seriously, I don’t think we’re related at all. DB

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