Then there are the singers who just comp for themselves. The late, great Shirley Horn was one of those. I was recently listening to a live recording she did called "I Thought About You", which was her first for Verve Records in 1987. (It's a live recording from the Vine Street Bar and Grill in Hollywood.) Her version of "Something Happens To Me", the opener, is exquisite; her swing and phrasing is a perfect encapsulation of jazz singing in less than 4 minutes. I listened to this track many times in a row, and when you listen to her piano comping, you realize that she is the perfect accompanist for herself, and yet, if you didn't know, you would think it was two people!
Here is a live version from a 1990 Bern, Switzerland performance:
Shirley Horn was born in Washington, D.C. in 1934. She took classical piano lessons from the age of 4, and majored in piano and composition at Howard University; although she was accepted at the Juilliard School in New York, she couldn't afford the tuition. Horn worked in D.C. as a pianist fronting a trio, and was discovered in 1960 by Miles Davis. Davis let Horn open for his group at the Village Vanguard. During the 60's, she recorded some great albums for Mercury and Impulse, but never really achieved stardom. Here's a track from "Loads of Love", released in 1963:
Horn had the same rhythm section for 25 years: Charles Ables on electric bass and Steve Williams on drums. I got to play with Williams a bunch when I lived in D.C.; I believe that Williams, although having a great career and an indeed special musical relationship with Horn, is rather underrated in the drumming world. If you listen to how sensitively Williams plays on these tracks, you can see how special his musicianship is for this kind of situation. Many drummers would have a hard time holding back their "chops" for the sake of such quietude.
I was fortunate to see one of Horn's last performances before her passing; she had an engagement at Au Bar in New York. She was clearly not well, but her magical powers still came out in her music. I think all jazz vocal students should be required to listen to everything Shirley Horn has ever done. Her phrasing, her delivery, her swing, her taste in material, her piano comping, it's all there. Shirley Horn was indeed a treasure.