Shirley Horn didn't believe in doing things in a hurry. Famous for playing and singing at almost impossibly slow tempos for jazz, she got where she wanted to be in her own good time. It was partly for this reason that the greatest fame of her career didn't come until her early 50s. Sadly, she didn't have nearly long enough to enjoy it. She died last week at the age of 71. The career break that introduced Horn to a wider world, in 1986, was being discovered in a New York nightclub at the age of 52. She was heard entirely by chance by a PolyGram executive, who arranged for her to be signed to the Verve jazz label, which the company owns. However, as Oscar Wilde observed of America before Columbus, she 'had often been discovered before, but it had always been hushed up'. Horn herself had done most of the hushing. She was born in Washington, DC, on May 1, 1934, and seemed to require a great deal of persuasion to leave it. She studied the piano from the age of five, but evinced no particular ambition to sing. She was studying music at Howard University, also in Washington, and helping to pay for her studies by playing jazz piano at a nightclub, when a patron who wouldn't be refused asked her to sing My Melancholy Baby. He also offered her a giant teddy bear - which, for reasons history doesn't record, he happened to be accompanied by at the time - as a reward for the performance. Why she would have wanted this encumbrance remains unclear, but it's probable that she simply rose to a challenge. The performance brought the house down. From then on, Horn was both a singer and a pianist, and a Washington following that continued to sustain her for another half century began to accumulate. By the mid-1950s she was leading her own trio, and in 1960 she made her debut as a recording artist with Embers and Ashes. It was a work of masterful understatement, which was probably why Miles Davis played it so much around the house that his children knew the words to all of the songs. The trumpeter was then at the peak of his Kind of Blue fame, and had decided that Horn should open for him at the Village Vanguard. He called her up and summoned her to New York, without troubling to consult club owner Max Gordon, who didn't appreciate the idea. This must have been a shock for Horn, who didn't like leaving Washington, anyway. But Davis gave Gordon the choice of taking his nominee as a support act or losing his headliner. Gordon gave in, and the slow and sultry singer was almost as big a hit as Davis. He'd listen attentively to her sets and insisted that she sometimes join his on piano (displacing Wynton Kelly). Davis listened carefully to singers, and had recorded a number of standards as a direct result of being taken with Frank Sinatra's interpretations of them. Horn had at least as profound an effect on him as Sinatra. Three of the tunes on 1963's Seven Steps to Heaven - Basin Street Blues, I Fall in Love too Easily and Baby, Won't You Please Come Home - were probably selected because he'd heard Horn sing them. This was her big career break, and she walked right away from it. Put in the studio with an all-star band and arrangements by Quincy Jones, she was asked to sing and not play the piano. She didn't like the results. Two unsatisfactory albums later, she returned to Washington to marry and become a mother who did gigs on the side. She took the responsibilities of motherhood seriously, but by 1978 she had some time of her own again, and started to record, in her quiet, low-key way, for the Denmark-based Steeplechase label, still gigging mostly around Washington, but occasionally appearing at jazz festivals elsewhere in the US and overseas. She didn't want to do the New York club residency that got her discovered in a big way the second time, but on this occasion opportunity simply wouldn't be turned away from her door. The ensuing albums for Verve - of which, perhaps, the most notable are You Won't Forget Me and I Remember Miles - established her as a uniquely expressive singer. As a vocalist, Horn displayed none of the virtuosity of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald or, latterly, Dianne Reeves. She avoided the gut-wrenching emotional territory Billie Holiday commanded. She was, in the sense Davis more or less invented, cool. The feeling in her interpretations is intense, but controlled, sophisticated, but inalienably real. Above all, it's balanced. Every word and note has its value, and Horn accords them neither more nor less. The performances are exquisite, and she is, throughout, her own best accompanist. She shared Davis' under-standing of less being more, and of letting notes have room to breathe. Even so, she recalled, although Davis liked to hear her sing ballads he used to say, 'You do 'em awful slow'. Everything was in her own time. As she sang, in duet with Davis' muted trumpet, You Won't Forget Me. We won't.