Dallas, Texas-born Horn is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who sings with passion and verve. Her tonality and personality blast through your speakers as she frenetically scats to keep up with the pace of her band. Horn's contemporary flare meshes with her favourite artists from yesteryear. That same cadence and intonation resonated with my mom and elicited goosebumps. Horn has something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're an old-school head or a jazz hepcat.
It was her flow that made my mother stop in her tracks. My mom is a huge fan of Lena Horn (no relation to Jazzmeia), as I’m sure Horn is too. But would you believe that she wasn’t always a lover of the musical genre? Horn was in a rock band and used to sing rock covers by System of a Down and The Fray. Believe that I asked twice to ensure I heard correctly.
“I was in a garage band, very mixed neighbourhood, and many of my friends were very much into those bands. Weezer, and you know, I'm telling you, I only got into jazz because of a man who gave me a CD,” says Horn
"I sang rock because, at the time, I was trying to be rebellious from my parents. They always wanted me in the church. They wanted me to sing gospel; rock is the opposite (laughs). They were pissed! About, 'Get outta my garage with that mess!' They were hot; they were very upset. When I found jazz, they were not as upset yet confused because I did all this scatting consistently. It was nerve-wracking for them. So, they didn't know what to do with me. They really didn't know," says Horn giggling.
She was always appreciative of good music. Raised in a Baptist church, Horn was part of a musical family. Her grandmother played piano and led the choir, and her grandfather was the pastor and played guitar. Horn’s dad played the drums and was the musical director, and her mom sang. Talk about a family affair.
But at 15 years old, her love for jazz music took flight after auditioning for a performing arts school. "I didn't know anything about jazz. When I auditioned for the Arts Magnet School, one of the teachers said, 'Are you interested in jazz?' And I was like, that's old people's music. I don't know what you're talking about (laughs). So the next day, he brought me this compilation CD with Sarah Vaughn, Nancy Wilson, Etta James, Nat King Cole, Little Jimmy Scott and more. I mean, I was blown away," says Horn.
"I sat there and listened to that CD repeatedly the entire day after school. I got out of school at about 3:00 p.m. From 3:45 until it was time for me to go to bed, that CD played on repeat. And at that moment, I was like, okay, I'm going to do this. I'm going to take this seriously. I really didn't get exposed to jazz. There was something light and bright about it. But it still had this heavy sense of spirit, and I yearned for more of that. I wanted to understand. So I transcribed that whole CD and returned it to him within a week. I was like, I need more. And he was like, 'what?' (laughs). So that was the beginning of it all for me."
Like many, we're thankful she did. Horn's curiosity and craving to deconstruct and digest the ways of the jazz greats satiated her need for more. Or, as she would say from her perspective, allow for the nutrients from the greats to settle in. She seasoned her training with Sarah Vaughn's scatting and expression and annunciation from Nat King Cole. These concepts and more helped mould Jazzmeia Horn into the artist she is today. While she adopts the styles of yesteryear, she also sprinkles her spicy and improvisational flavour throughout. It's a beautiful entanglement of what was and what's to come.
On the other side of her passion, there's family, child-rearing, and life. It's all a fine line. As we lamented the nonsense and drollery of adulting, I asked Horn how she stays sane and finds balance. Her response was as real as it gets. "I don't know. I still think I'm insane (laughs). I'm trying to figure that out. It is an evolving process. The one thing I will say is discipline, though," says Horn. And as she proceeded to show me around her homeschooling room with everything neatly arranged and tidily in order, I plainly understood what she was saying.
"Look, there's so much structure in here. We have to have structure because that organizing and structure gives the room to have discipline. Hypothetically, let's say you wake up every day, have a family, have things to do, and just kind of let things go. When do you have time to solidify your goals? When do you have time for yourself?" Horn asked.
"I was like, all right, I'm going to let the days go, how they go in the morning, I'm going to have a semi-routine in the morning. But emails would come to me, and I wasn't getting them done. Or a booking would come, and I'd lose the opportunity because I didn't respond to the email quickly enough, or someone would want to do an interview. But it was difficult because I was so focused on caring for my children, which is not a bad thing. But you have to solidify some time to where you can juggle everything. So that discipline came quickly. It became me getting up before the children to handle certain things and get them out of the way so that I could get done everything I needed to do in a day,” says Horn. “You know, it's been a very long process, but the shape of it now is so beautiful.”
As we know, life throws unexpected curve balls and challenges in the most inopportune moments. However, Horn takes everything in stride, staying grounded in her children and spirituality. On the other hand, what keeps her charged is staying plugged into the people, community and society. Her fire comes from delivering and being God's vessel via her gift. "Somebody has probably never heard that God is a living God. Somebody has probably never seen joy in a specific kind of way. My responsibility is to heal, to bring that light, and bring that joy through the music. So every time I step on this stage, I'm like, all right, help me. I'm your vessel."
"Whatever you need me to do in this moment. So that's how I stay charged. And also current events that I see happening on the news or in the newspaper, or in my community. I may think about that, and if I see too much of it, I might write something about it. Hence my arrangement of “People Make The World Go Round.” The song has already been written. But I needed to reimagine it. I was like, y'all, come on. What is going on? So that kind of thing I get charged from," says Horn.
From music to life’s escapades and society’s plight, innovation and artistry reside in many pockets for Horn. Life is lively, buoyant, busy and musical. And by the sound of things, she wouldn’t have it any other way.