In 1994, jazz vocalist/pianist Shirley Horn was at the peak of her career. Here's to Life, a collaboration with arranger/composer Johnny Mandel, debuted in 1992 to critical praise and fan accolades. Due to this artistic resurgence, Horn received an invitation to play at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival. Although NPR previously broadcast parts of her performance, Concord Music has released the entire concert on Shirley Horn Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival. The CD boasts pristine remastering and showcases a laid back, subtle Horn as she plays several standards.
Accompanied by Charles Ables (bass) and Steve Williams (drums), Horn appears to play more for herself rather than the audience, thanking them politely between each song, but not overtly inviting them to take part in her performance. She clearly ponders every word she sings, her laid-back vocals implicitly asking the listener to consider the meaning behind the lyrics.
Horn's formidable talents come through in her cover of “L.A. Breakdown (And Take Me In),” a minor hit for Larry Marks in 1968. Why this beautiful song has not been covered by more artists remains a mystery. Horn breathes new life into the tune with her melancholy vocals and gorgeous piano. Her piano skills resemble Ralph Sharon's in that they seem simple on the surface, but deepen in intricacy and complexity upon further listening.
Perhaps Horn's artistry shines through the most in “Here's to Life,” a moving tribute to life's highs and lows. “Who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away,” she croons softly, “as long as I'm in the game I want to play. While she did not pen the lyrics, the song clearly took on personal meaning for her, judging by her solemn delivery. “I had my share, I drank my fill / And even though I'm satisfied I'm hungry still,” she sings, possibly also referring to her own musical comeback.