Radio Days: Shirley Horn At The Four Queens
In the 1980s and 90s, KNPR broadcast a weekly series, "4 Queens Jazz Night from Las Vegas.” On May 2, 1988, the program featured singer and pianist Shirley Horn.
Resonance Records has unearthed Shirley Horn's performance from the vault, and put out the album, "Shirley Horn: Live at the 4 Queens." It features Shirley Horn on vocals and piano; Charles Ables on bass; and Steve Williams on drums.
Interview with Zev Feldman:
(KNPR’s Dave Becker) Shirley Horn is well-known to a lot of devoted jazz fans. She died in 2005 after a long career. Tell us a little bit about who she was.
(Zev Feldman, producer at Resonance Records) I think she is one of the most under-appreciated jazz vocalists and pianists of our time. She was a remarkable artist. She inspired many legions of fans including myself, who had the pleasure of getting to know her a little bit during my time in Washington, D.C. when I was a rep for her record company. But she is really one of the great pianists and singers. She really had a one-two punch. She was really more than just a pianist. She was definitely more than just a vocalist. She is really one of the greats.
What do you hear these days when you listen to Shirley?
This recording, in particular, transports me to many of the evenings where I had the good fortune of hearing her whether it was the Village Vanguard in New York or the Bohemian Caverns in Washington or Zanzibar in Philadelphia. Shirley could play larger rooms, and hearing her also playing in a club setting was something really inspiring. It transported me back.
Interview with Rainy Williams:
(KNPR’s Dave Becker) When you were growing up, were you aware of how well-known and respected your mother was in the world of jazz?
(Rainy Williams, daughter of Shirley Horn) Yes. We’re native Washingtonians, mom and I, mom’s side of the family. Yes, of course, she was adored by the family, and my dad and everything. Like Zev mentioned a couple of clubs. I definitely recall The Caverns as a very young child. I had an early sense that mom was so talented - singing and as a pianist. She commanded the room whether it was a small venue like The Caverns or a big space like Lincoln Center. I was able to travel with her to Paris to a theater there for a concert. And, honestly, you could hear a pin drop. Everybody was waiting for the next note. I really began to understand just how special she was, and is, to people around the world.
What was life like at home as you were growing up? Did your mother sing to you as you were going to bed? Did she play lullabies?
Well, Dave, I wish she would have. Music was always in the background, though, whether mom was rehearsing or playing for people or even cooking – she loved to cook, she loved to entertain – whether it was family or people from out of town. But there was always great music. Mom’s music. Other jazz greats. That was one of the great gifts that mom gave me.
Interview with Brian Sanders:
(KNPR’s Dave Becker) Brian was at the audio console in 1988 recording Shirley Horn. It was a time when KNPR was primarily a music station, playing jazz and classical music wrapped around “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” Tell us – “Four Queens Jazz Night from Las Vegas” – what was that show and what was it all about?
(Brian Sanders, former producer/engineer of the radio program, “Four Queens Jazz Night from Las Vegas”) The Four Queens show started as a local live broadcast. Alan Grant, the executive producer of the series, convinced the Four Queens management that they needed to have jazz on Monday nights. It worked. He says, I’ll tell you what: I can get the public radio station involved in this, as well. We used to do live broadcasts of the Four Queens, on Monday nights. We started recording them. And the show went up on the satellite on a weekly basis. We’d do 13 shows and then take a period off. It was a long time ago. 1988.
One of the eccentricities with the Four Queens jazz night was that, as I understand it, there was sometimes competition and you weren’t sure if the jazz was going to prevail in your microphones or if the casino was going to prevail.
(laughs) That kind of competition! I was driving over from Flagstaff this afternoon and listening to the CD and thinking: oh, yes, there’s a slot machine going crazy in the background during one of the most intimate, quiet, ballad sections of the tune. Yes, you’d hear that. You’d hear people hollering when their gambling device paid off, and whatnot. It was a give and take.
As you said, you just came in from Flagstaff. Driving west on Interstate-40 listening to this disc, what were you thinking as you listened to it all these years later?
One of the things I was thinking was: what was I thinking? I was trying to remember. 1988. This was an analog recording. This was before we had a digital tape recorder, so I was doing everything on quarter-inch magnetic tape at slow speed because we only had one tape recorder. And, to get an hours recording – a full set’s worth – it had to run at the slow 7 ½ inches-per-second speed. This is arcane technical stuff - but nobody in their right mind would do that today. We did, though. What was I thinking?
She’s greatly underrated, isn’t she?
I think so.
I know Miles Davis was a huge fan for many many years. And he was on one of her last recordings.
They shared space on some CDs. Yes, Shirley’s records are wonderful. They really are.
Jazz night flyer/Courtesy of the Four Queens Hotel and Casino
(Editor's note: This interview originally ran January 2017)
Zev Feldman, Producer at Resonance Records, Los Angeles; Rainy Williams, daughter of singer/pianist Shirley Horn; Brian Sanders, former producer and audio engineer for KNPR's radio series, "4 Queens Jazz Night from Las Vegas."