Here’s To Life – Shirley Horn
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I had a great relationship with my father. As old age started to do what it does, I had a difficult time seeing him slip into the final stages of his life. To find comfort at times I did what I’ve done all of my life. I turned to my music to get me through. It has never failed me or let me down. I remember watching George Burns on the Tonight Show. He was in his late eighties at the time. Johnny Carson asked “George .. what do you think about life?” George answered “I think the second half is going to be better.” How profound his answer was. I was so affected by it. This man in his golden years looked at life and embraced it with open arms. I ran to the piano and in about twenty minutes I wrote the melody and came up with the title “Here’s To Life” and a few lines of the lyric.
I wrote the song through the eyes of an older man who was looking back at his life and reminiscing, and yet being totally optimistic about whatever time he had left. I didn’t realize it then, but I was really writing about my father. I tried several lyric writers but none of them pushed my buttons. I finally tried Phyllis Molinary. I gave her the title and gave her a few of the lyric lines I had written and told her what I felt the song should say. She did a great job. The song is very emotional for me. It’s not a sad song. It’s poignant and bittersweet. There are times when I think of the song and I just break out into tears. Sometimes they’re tears of joy, and sometimes not. I hear from people all over the world telling me how they love the song and how it affects them. What a great feeling it is knowing that a song that came from inside of me touches the inside of so many others.
I remember getting a call from a close friend of mine who is a very well known actress. She said she was in her car and she had just heard “Here’s To Life” and she had to pull off the freeway because her eyes were filled with tears. Even though she knew the song, she said she had to call and tell me how it affected her. I think you have to pay some dues in your life before you can understand a song like this, let alone write one. Unfortunately my dad never got to hear it but who knows .. maybe I’ll get the chance to play it for him in person someday. I do hope they tune the piano up in heaven when I get there.
Johnny Mandel called and asked me to fax him a copy of the music. He said he was recording it with Shirley Horn and wanted to invite me to the session. A week later I showed up at the studio and there was a huge orchestra there. Johnny was the producer and arranger. “Here’s To Life” was the last song on the session. The orchestra rehearsed Johnny’s arrangement a few times, and when they were ready to record the red light went on and the magic started. To this day I can’t find the words to explain the emotional impact of Johnny’s incredible arrangement and Shirley’s breathtaking vocal happening together for the first time. I closed my eyes and as I listened I kept seeing my fathers smiling face. Perhaps he was finally hearing it after all. I would like to think so. I sat in the corner of the control room with tears of joy running down my face. I remember when the song was finished the entire orchestra listened to a playback and wept. There stood fifty people listening and crying. What a thrill for a songwriter to have his song come back to him for the very first time in such splendor.
I consider Johnny Mandel’s arrangement of “Here’s To Life” to be a musical oil painting. When I close my eyes and listen to it, I see all the magic that only music can bring. His arrangement is just that magnificent. I sent him a letter to thank him and to tell him how incredible his arrangement was. About two months later I heard the record on the radio and I was so affected by it again, I sent him another copy of the same letter. I just changed the date.
This picture was taken at the “Here’s To Life” recording session.