Flashback Friday – Shirley Horn – Travelin’ Light

Shirley Horn - Travelin' Light
I’m trav’lin’ light
Because my man has gone
So from now on
I’m trav’lin’ light
He said goodbye
And took my heart away
So from today
I’m trav’lin’ light

No one to see
I’m free as the breeze
No one but me
And my memories
Some lucky night
He may come back again
So until then
I’m trav’lin’ light

“The first purchase of a Shirley Horn record has a typical result: it sends you off on a scavenger hunt for all the ones you missed.” – James Gavin, Travelin’ Light liner notes

It was a spring of 1994 when I first heard this album played in a used records store in Oak Park, Illinois where I lived at the time. I had just gotten to know Shirley’s music in the last couple of years and I was buying every one of her records that I could find. “Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues” was playing and I turned to ask who was singing only to find out it was Shirley’s 1965 ABC-Paramount recording, Travelin’ Light. I continued to listen and was instantly in love but it was the store’s only copy of the recently reissued album. After a little coercing (begging), I got the store to sell me the disc and I went home a very happy man. This was now my earliest record on which Shirley sang and played piano. On her previous albums, Loads of Love/Shirley Horn with Horns, she only provided vocals while piano was played by Hank Jones and Jimmy Jones.

On the opening title track, Shirley takes it slow, making a statement with each word, letting you know the romance has ended and she will be “Travelin’ Light.” You immediately hear how her voice and piano are so closely intertwined in her vocal phrasing and chord structure. She is intimate and personal. “New York on Sunday” picks up the pace a bit and inspired my desire to go to see the New York City she sang about. “I Could Have Told You” is a beautiful ballad with “I told you so” theme as she watches a former love have his heart broken by a new romance. She swings on “Big City” and brings it back mellow on “I Want to Be With You” punctuating her words with sweet melodies. “Some of My Best Friends Are the Blue” is bluesy but you will need a double scotch on the rocks when Shirley does a trembling piano swell followed by silence on the dirge “Someone You’ve Loved.” There is a finger snapping coolness on “Don’t Be on the Outside” and “You’re Blasé is pretty much to the point but Shirley’s reading of it takes it just a little further. “Yes, I Know When I’ve Had It” is a swinging tribute to the end of a romance. There is a sly playfulness on the ballad “Confession” and if you are not listening carefully you will miss the ending phrase “I always go to bed at 10, then go home at 4.” Shirley closes the album with a bossa nova treatment on the Lennon-McCartney ballad “And I Love Him.”

Shirley band’s for this album included Marshall Hawkins on bass, Bernard Sweetney on drums, Joe Newman on trumpet, Frank Wess on flute & alto sax, Jerome Richardson on flute, and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Johnny Pate provided brass arrangements on several tracks. They compliment Shirley’s style of singing and playing very well.

On May 1, Shirley celebrated her 70th birthday. She has been making beautiful music for over 40 years and I dedicate this flashback to her.

“Here’s to life. Here’s to love. Here’s to you.”

Enjoy your music and have a safe holiday weekend!

Additional Resources

Rebroadcast of a Shirley Horn interview on The Connection in 2002
Shirley Horn Discography

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