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Interviews

Sheila Jordan: A Life of Honest Expression

By Published: March 12, 2007

Jazz is a music that allows us emotionally and honestly to express our lives and the lives of others.

Sheila JordanHer voice really cooks but what is the recipe for the way Sheila Jordan picks songs and transforms them into something special and swinging? Well, you take a quarter Cherokee child raised in poverty in Pennsylvania's coal-mining country, you add to it the definitive influence of a genius, Charlie Parker, and mix it all with a hard life, a great and creative voice able to express the soul through melodies and lyrics and... Sheila is ready to serve you plenty of good jazz and meaning.

All About Jazz: If I were a painter what colors should I use to portray you?

Sheila Jordan: My colors would be black, white, red, purple and green.

AAJ: What emotions would I capture in that portrait if I would do it right now? What is Sheila worried about in what concerns the world and politics?

SJ: Joy for being able to do the one thing in the world that is most important to me (after my daughter)—jazz music, whether I'm teaching it, performing for wonderful audiences all over the world or going out to hear it in clubs or concerts. There is nothing else for me. To be able to perfrom it, teach it and keep the message alive, this is my calling in life. These are the emotions you would capture...

AAJ: What is Sheila worried about in what concerns the world and politics?

SJ: I have no view on politics. I am against war and young peoples' lives being shattered and destroyed. I am against poverty, prejudice and brutality. Having grown up in poverty I know the plight of the young souls trying to find their way in life. Thank God for the music—I found my salvation.

AAJ: Who is, in fact, Sheila Jordan after all these years both as a singer and a woman? A diva, a star?

SJ: I am not a diva or a star nor do I wish to be. I consider myself a messenger of the music. I am only here to carry the message. In order to keep it you have to give it away.

AAJ: Would there be a Sheila Jordan singer if there wasn't a Charlie Parker?

SJ: I am sure I would have sung some kind of music but I never knew what kind of music I wanted to sing as a kid until I heard Bird, and when I heard him I said, "That is the music I will dedicate my life to."

AAJ: How was your learning process in jazz?

SJ: I learned through buying Bird's records (78 records) and playing them over and over and trying to sing with Bird and all the cats on the record. That was how I learned. By ear. Bird called me "the kid with the million dollar ears." I learned so much listening to all those bebop records. My God, what an incredible experience. I played those records over and over until they turned white. I learned rhythm changes when they played them. I could hear the tunes that the new bebop melodies were based on if they were based on standard songs. Quite a few bebop melody lines were based on the tunes of the times like George Gershwin, etc.



I had some piano lessons when I was young but we couldn't afford for me to study music. I had a great aunt who taught piano and she gave me some lessons but she would hit your hands real hard if you didn't place them on the right keys and I had small hands and couldn't always reach the keys correctly. She scared me so I didn't study with her very long. I wish I had been able to have the opportunity to study piano at greater lengths. I think I would be a composer of some sort by now. I can hear nice melodies but I can't always play them. I play better by ear than reading. I hear faster than I read.

AAJ: Any idea of what you could be doing professionally by now if your life hadn't been spent in jazz and music?

SJ: I have always been interested in looking at the stars so probably an astronaut or something along that line. The sky has always fasicinated me and the galaxies are something I can't quite comprehend but I am totally blown away by them..

AAJ: If you agree, let's reminisce a little bit about your early days. You were born Sheila Jeanette Dawson and raised in poverty in Pennsylvania's coal-mining country...

SJ: I grew up in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. I was raised by my grandparents because my mother had me when she was seventeen and since she and my father were not together I was sent to live in Pennsylvania with my grandparents. My mother stayed in Detroit to work in the factory. My aunts and uncles were more like my brothers and sisters. There were still six living at home when I was taken there to live. We had no heat or plumbing in our house and food was scarce. There was a lot of alcoholism in my family. None of my grandparents children went to high school except me, and one uncle who was six years younger than me. Singing became my savior. I sang when I was sad, I sang when I was happy, I sang when I was scared. All my emotions revolved around singing. Singing was necessary for my existence.

AAJ: By then you were singing in school and on amateur shows on Pennsylvania radio. How did you really get involved in singing to other people? Did your parents encourage you?

SJ: I sang in school at an early age. Plays, assemblies, etc. It was great. I also got on amateur hours and sang on Johnstown and Ebensburg radio stations in Pennsylvania. They encouraged me somewhat. I really can't remember a lot of encouragement but I guess if I was on radio shows someone must have been in my corner. I stopped singing though after awhile because the kids in school started to tease me and make fun of me so I became very shy about it and stopped singing in public but continued singing for myself.

AAJ: Things really started when you moved to Detroit and had some notorious high-school mates, among them pianists Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, and guitarist Kenny Burrell. What was happening then musically between you?

SJ: I went to a high school that had a great juke box across the street from the high school and it was there I heard Bird for the first time... He was called Charlie Parker and his Reboppers at that time. What a thrill. I always knew I wanted to do music but it wasn't until I heard him. That is when I decided to dedicate my life to music. I found places I could hear the music live where you didn't have to be 21 years old to get in. That is where I met Tommy and Kenny and Barry. They were playing in these non-alcoholic places, especially Tommy Flannigan. We were all Bird freaks and learning the music together, singing those bebop lines. I learned the bebop lines from the records. Singing the lines. They had one club that was great. It was called the Club Sudan. Tommy and the young cats all played there. It was our hang out.

AAJ: Do you remember what were your feelings when you first heard Charlie Parker on that jukebox?

SJ: It was a moment I will never forget. I heard that sound and said this is the music I will dedicate my life to. I had finally found the music I wanted to sing. I always sang but never knew what kind of music I wanted to sing until that day after my high school classes [that] I heard a tune by Charlie Parker.

AAJ: And then you got to meet him personally...

SJ: I met my idol shortly after at the Greystone Ballroom playing with Max Roach and Duke Jordan... Can't remember who the bassist was and me and Skeeter and Mitch caught him coming off the stage after the first set and sang one of his tunes that Skeeter had put words to. We sang in his ear. He later referred to me as the kid with the million dollar ears.

AAJ: Is it due to Parker that your influences have been instrumentalists rather than singers?

SJ: Yes, because I was so addicted to his sound and how he phrased that I had to try to sing along on all of his 78 recordings. I would save the little bit of money I earned doing odd jobs and buy the latest Bird sides as we called them. I tried to sing everybody's solo. I said tried... I didn't have enough money to buy lots of records so I had to choose between Bird and the singers and I chose Bird.

AAJ: At what time did you become a member of the vocal trio Skeeter, Mitch and Jean?

SJ: It was during one of the non-aloholic clubs I went to with my good friend who loved the music as much as me. These two guys were singing and I asked them if I could sing with them and they said maybe. So they told me to come by a friend's house and go over some tunes with them. They were very helpful to me. They heard me sing and said I had soul. At the time I was still in high school and drinking illegally was very popular. These two guys saw that I drank even though I was underage and said they would let me sing with them but I would have to stop drinking, which I did. We would always sit in with the name bands when they came to town. We got a reputation for being a swinging trio... Skeeter, Mitch and Jean... That's what we were called.

AAJ: Who was the mentor of that project, which basically was about singing versions of Parker's solos in the style of Lambert, Hendricks And Ross?

SJ: I believe it was a combination of Skeeter and Mitch. Mitch was probably the lead of it all. I came in after they had been singing for awhile. Skeeter was the greatest scat singer I ever heard. Until this day I have not heard anyone scat like him. Mitch and Skeeter taught me how to scat by letting me sing with them. They didn't actually show me how to scat, they merely taught me how to listen and I imitated them somewhat until I found my own sound.

Sheila JordanAAJ: And then in 1950 you decide to move to New York. Were you attracted by the Meca of jazz or by Charlie Parker as a musician?

SJ: I was chasing Bird. The racial prejudice had gotten so bad in Detroit I had to leave. I couldn't take the harassment from the police constantly stopping me when I was going [to] or coming from the black clubs where the music I loved and the people I felt comfortable with were. They would stop me and my black friends for no reason and ask where I lived, how old I was, etc. It was a real drag. The last time I got taken down to the police station a cop asked me if I saw his gun in his holster. I said yes I did see his gun. Then he said, "I have a nine year-old daughter at home, and if I thought I was going to find her like I did you tonight with two N........, I would take this gun and blow her brains out. That was it for me. So I would say the music of Bird and the racial prejudice drove me out of Detroit.

AAJ: You arrive in the Big Apple and you start studying with the modernistic pianist Lennie Tristano (between 1951 and '52). Why did you choose him and what were you expecting to learn?

SJ: I didn't choose Lennie. I didn't even know about Lennie. Charlie Mingus and Max Roach told me about him. In fact I believe Mingus took me to Lennie's studio in the east 30s in NYC. I didn't know what I was looking for really in a teacher. I think I just needed some encouragement at that time. I sure got more than my share of that from Lennie.

AAJ: It's the '50s and you are in NYC. What happened by now to the poor girl raised in Pennsylvania? What's on her mind?

SJ: I got a job as a secretary and supported myself. Met Duke Jordan and got married to him in 1952... Duke left me in 1955, right after my daughter was born. I lived in Brooklyn with Duke for awhile and then moved to a loft on West 26th street in NYC. I was still studying with Lennie. Duke was away a lot and I kept studying with Lennie and going to the clubs to hear the music. Went to Minton's after hours up in Harlem on the weekends. We would go up there after the clubs closed and stay until eight or nine in the morning. Everyone came to those sessions. It was fantastic.

AAJ: It took you some time to start singing in the clubs. Was it hard for you to be accepted?

SJ: I got a job in a Greenwich Village club called the Page Three. It paid six dollars a night and by the time I paid for the cab (two bucks) and the baby sitter (two bucks) I had two bucks for me. I wasn't doing it for the money obviously. It was a place to try out material and work on my music with the presence of an audience. I had other gigs too but a lot of the club owners were more interested in what you looked like than anything else. I didn't like those places so they didn't last long for me. The Page Three I stayed at for a good six years, working on Monday and Tuesday nights. It was my salvation from working a nine-to-five job and supporting my little girl. Page Three accepted everything I did. I was referred to as "A New Note in Jazz."

AAJ: In March 1955 Charlie Parker suddenly dies. Where were you and how did his departure affect you?

SJ: He could have died at my loft because he was there a lot of the time. I was very upset but not surprised in a way. He was really in bad shape mentally and physically. He was such a sweet man... very caring... but the drugs and alcohol made him a different person. When I saw Bird at St. Peter's church lying in his coffin he looked over 60 years old and he was only about 34 at the time. I was totally heartbroken. My hero had fallen prey to this cunning, baffling powerful disease.

AAJ: OK, now we are in 1962, an important year in your career. You record for the first time, with George Russell [The Outer View (Riverside/OJC)], and also make your debut album [Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note)], with Steve Swallow, Barry Galbraith and Denzil Best. Who or what opened you those two important doors, specially the second one, considering Alfred Lion produced very few vocal albums for this label?

SJ: George Russell was teaching the pianist, Jack Reilly at the time, and Jack played piano at the Page Three on Monday nights. George came in to hear Jack and heard me. He introduced himself and asked me where I came from to sing like that. I told him I originally came from the coal mines in Pennsylvania. He said he would like to see that area and would I take him back there. We arranged to go to Summerhill, Pa. My grandmother was still alive and she took us down to the beer garden in Scoopy Town (nickname for Ehrenfield, Pa.).



We had some drinks at the bar, and my grandmother was bragging about us being big-time musicians from New York. There was an old coal miner at the bar and he said, "Oh really Jeanie (my nickname back there). Well do you still sing 'You are My Sunshine'?" I said, "Oh no, I don't sing that anymore." George said, "Let's play it and sing it for him. So we did. My grandmother didn't like the way George played it so she pushed him off the piano bench and played and I sang it.



George and I came back to NYC and a couple of weeks later George called me up and said can you come down to my apartment. I have something I want you to hear. I went down and he played this unbelievable intro... Then after he finished he said, "Sing, and I said, "Sing what? He said, "Sing 'You are My Sunshine.' I said, "Alone, with no music? He said, "Yes." So I sang it and he went to Riverside with the band and we recorded it.



It was the first time a singer had sung without accompaniment to my knowledge. It really surprised the jazz world when they heard it. Then he paid for me to do a demo of regular songs I had been singing at the Page Three. He took it to Blue Note and Prestige. Quincy Jones was the A&R man at Prestige at the time. But Blue Note picked it up and recorded me. I was the first singer to record on that label. Thanks to George and Ruth Lions (who later married Alfred Lions and was a singer at the Page Three at the time), Alfred came to hear me. The rest is history. Portrait of Sheila, with George's input on the rhythm section which was guitar, bass and drums.

AAJ: After a promising debut record, suddenly your recording seems to come to a halt—although we find you active singing jazz liturgies in churches and working on clubs—and you engage in a conventional day job (as a secretary, if I am not wrong) until you record Confirmation (East Wind) in 1975. Was it a personal choice of yours or was the public still not prepared for your very unique and unconventional singing style? Or were you having the blues?

SJ: I didn't have an agent after my Blue Note Recording, but I did manage to work through the help of other musicians. I also had a little child and I wasn't able to travel like I would need to. It really had to do with not having an agent or manager. George Russell did recommend me for many gigs in London, the Village Vanguard and Sweden. I took my kid with me but it was difficult. I could work in New York and the area surrounding but not any long extended trips because of my responsibility to my child.



I found places to sing to keep this musical yearning alive. Jazz masses in churches, continued two nights a week at the Page Three. I always found places to sing. I was approached by a record company in 1975 to record an album which I did and it was called Confirmation. It has just been reissued in the U.S. It was originally recorded on a label called East Wind. This was my first recording since the Blue Note [record]. Since I didn't push myself and had no one really to promote me I was just content to do my little gigs when I got them and happy to be able to sing when I could. I don't really know if the public wasn't ready for my unique sound. I never really had a chance to find out. I seemed to be accepted when I did sing somewhere. I don't remember getting booed off the stage... [smile]. As far as having the blues, I was born with the blues. That's why I identified with Afro-Americans so readily.

AAJ: In 1970 you start teaching at City College, in New York. How has the experience of teaching jazz vocals to new generations been? What are they looking for in your classes?

SJ: I was asked by a wonderful saxophonist, composer and friend, Ed Summerlin, to come up to City College and do a workshop and demonstration for one day. It was only a one-time shot. John Lewis was also teaching up there at the time and came to the workshop. Two of the classical teachers were also at the workshop that day and after it was over they recommended me along with Ed and John to the music office as a possible adjunct teacher. I had never taught before and was a bit nervous and scared but I decided to teach them only what I knew but all of it and not to hold back anything.



In order to keep it you have to give it away and this is what I do. It's a thrilling experience for me to see the younger generation blossom once they get the excitement of this wonderful music. Mostly, I want to give them encouragement. City College is where I learned to teach. I was learning as I was teaching and I will be eternally grateful to City College and those wonderful teachers who believed in me.

AAJ: Do you teach them standards or are they looking for fresh and unexplored songs?

SJ: I start out teaching them standards and work up to originals. I encourage them to compose and try out their own compositions if they have them. I believe that it is important to know all the good standards like the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, etc. I think learning these songs the way they were written is very important before one can elaborate on them. I don't believe in forced improvisation. If I have to think about an improvisation and plan it out then to me it is not really an improvisation. Of course, this is my own personal feeling. That's why I learn the song in it's original form first so I can feel and hear other musical roads to take.....

Sheila JordanAAJ: Talking about different roads... why do you enjoy so much singing with the bass?

SJ: I have always loved the bass and the freedom it allows me vocally. I seem to get a totally different sound when I sing with the bass. I love the sparseness and the sound of this magnificent instrument. Maybe I was a bassist in a previous life... [smile]. I met Steve Swallow at the Page Three and would try things with him at my gig there. He came in on Monday nights to play. When I finally had the chance to record for Blue Note I wanted it to be just bass and voice but it was a little too risky at that time. There are some tunes on that recording with just the bass though.

AAJ: In 1977 you release your first album in duo with a bassist, Sheila (Steeplechase), accompanied by Arild Andersen, which was in fact the prelude to other duet partnerships with bass players, like Harvie Swartz and Cameron Brown. This is really your preferred method of working, isn't it?

SJ: I met Arild in Norway. This was also thanks to George Russell. George had arranged for me to do a festival and I met all of the wonderful Scandinavian musicians. Arild was one of them. I had been doing bass and voice any chance I could in NYC so at one point I asked Arild if he would like to record with me for Steeplechase Records. We had done a few gigs in Norway with the bass and voice. He agreed and we recorded Sheila.



I have since done quite a few more duo recordings. My two latest are with Cameron Brown. One is called I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass (High Note, 2000) and the last recording is called Celebration (High Note, 2005). To get back to my reason for wanting to sing with the bass only... I don't feel I have to push. Ideas and improvisation comes much easier. I never felt it was an unorthodox way to present music. If singers can sing with just a piano then why not just a bass? You have to be careful with pitch though. I work very hard on arrangements (head arrangements). I have to trust the musician I'm with. I work off of trust and silence.



Bass and voice is not easy to accomplish musically and creatively in a loud atmosphere. You really have to be tuned in to each other and that is why silence is the other instrument in a sense. When I asked Harvie if he would be interested in forming the first working bass and voice duo he agreed with the stipulation that we rehearse every week. This we did. Even though Harvie has left to do his own music I continued this combination and found Cameron Brown to take over Harvie's part of the duo.



I rehearse a lot the same way with Cameron. Lots of rehearsals and working out musical ideas which allow us to venture into other unexplored musical territories. It is a very exciting approach to music but again you both have to be dedicated and you must give complete trust to each other. This is without a doubt my favorite way to sing and I don't do it because it's different, I do it because I truly feel and hear the music this way. One last thing: the secret behind the complete communication for me is listening.

AAJ: It's now late '70s and your popularity is increasing and we find you recording with Steve Kuhn, whose quartet you join. How did you meet Steve and start singing with him?

SJ: I met Kuhn in the '60s I believe. I used him on a few gigs but didn't really get a group with him or record with him until the beginning of the '80s I believe. We recorded Playground (1979—all Kuhn Originals) and Last Year's Waltz (1981—live from Fat Tuesdays) and they were both for the ECM label. He asked me to be part of his group and we called it the Steve Kuhn/Sheila Jordan Band.



Bob Moses was the drummer and Harvie S. (originally Swartz) was the bassist. We toured for a few years together with that band but again we did not have proper representation so it sort of fell by the wayside. I still continued to do gigs with Kuhn when I was able to hire my own group and these would be advertised as Sheila Jordan with the Steve Kuhn Trio. I still work and record with Kuhn when I decide to do a record date. My latest recordings with Steve are: Jazzchild (1999) and Little Song (2003) on High Note. He is beginning to get the recognition he so justly deserves. He is a great accompanist and has been my dearest friend for the past 40-plus years.

AAJ: In 1993 you recorded Heart Strings (Muse) accompanied by a string quartet. Was it a dream come true?

SJ: Heartstrings was a dream come true. I had wanted to do a string quartet since I heard Bird with strings all those many years ago. I had tried to find someone interested in it but it didn't work out. I kept thinking I was a bit over the top and then I heard Stan Getz's Focus (Verve, 1961), and I knew it could be done.



I had to wait awhile. Joe Fields, who has always been in my corner, had Muse Records at the time and said he would be very happy to do a string quartet project. I knew Allan Broadbent from gigs I had done with him in the past and asked him if he would be interested in such a project. He said he would be but wasn't sure if he could. I knew he could so I gave him the tunes and he arranged them for the string quartet and came to New York and we recorded the project.



The recording wasn't totally string quartet. There were a few duos with piano and voice and trio but the main focus was the string quartet. Allan wrote wonderful charts. Today he is the top string arranger. How about that! I probably couldn't afford him today.... [smile]. I might add I am still doing string quartet projects. There is a wonderful string quartet in Vancouver, B.C. called the Babayaga String Quartet. The leader is a cello player named Harold Birston. He is wonderful. I was introduced to him by a young festival promoter who called me for his festival and wanted me to do the string project. I said I didn't have a quartet at the time and he recommended Harold's group. The rest is history. Harold does wonderful arrangements for me and hopeful we will record an audio [CD} and DVD soon. I also work with a string quartet in Italy. I am very blessed.

AAJ: In Celebration: Live at the Triad you sing, "If it wasn't for jazz music I wouldn't be alive today. You did go through a lot of personal problems during your life. What happened and what was "The Crossing for the blues?

SJ: I sing about music saving my life in "Sheila's Blues. The reason I sing this is because close to 30 years ago I was going through a period in my life where my drinking got out of control. Coming from a family of alcoholism (my mother died from the disease) it didn't take long for me to develop a very serious drinking problem. I quit on my own for eight years but turned to the use of cocaine. A powerful drug. At the time I didn't believe you could become addicted to cocaine. I didn't drink anymore but I used cocaine when I could afford it.



All I did was change seats on the Titanic. From booze to drugs. No future in that but my self-confidence was shot and it was a very dark period of my life. I had a spiritual awakening one night. It was a message that came to me loud and clear which stated, "I gave you a gift to share with the world but if you don't respect and take care of it, I will take it away from you and give it to someone else." It was a Higher Power coming through me. I know this today. I went for help and have been clean and sober now for 21 years. It was at this time when I first became sober and found help that I wrote "The Crossing". I am one of the lucky ones. I stay sober one day at a time. There is help out there if we want it.

AAJ: Besides really living the words you sing you also scat and even make up lyrics on stage on the spot. How do you see yourself, as a singer or a jazz musician for whom the voice is like a saxophone or a trumpet?

SJ: I am a messenger of jazz song. I am a singer. Had I wanted to be an instrumentalist I would have learned an instrument. I phrase like a horn player because of listening at an earlier age to my guru Bird. I learn the songs exactly as they are written first. The making up of lyrics is part of the improvisation. They usually tie into the meaning of the song. Like "Everything Happens to Me." I sing that song the way it was written and then tell stories, with the chord changes, of things that have happened to me, good or bad.



I don't really plan on making up lyrics but it is my way of talking to my audiences. Scatting comes from my early days with Skeeter and Mitch and listening to Bird's recordings. His compositions didn't always have lyrics so I learned to sing without lyrics because I loved him and his music so much.

AAJ: OK, let's move on to some straight questions and simple answers. The thing you resent most in you career?

SJ: I have no resentments in my career. I never planned to get this far with the music. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate to be able to carry the message.

AAJ: The best jazz musician ever?

SJ: The best jazz musician? You've got to be kidding... Charlie Parker of course... who else for me? The Bird.

AAJ: The best jazz album ever, except your own (of course!)?

SJ: I never think my records are great. I am very critical of myself... I would say Bird's "Just Friends" solo on the string recording [Bird with Strings (Columbia, 1950)] , Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1959) and Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957) by Miles Davis.

AAJ: The best male jazz singer?

SJ: I love Jon Hendricks. I think he is a genius of the vocalese. There are many others I love too but Jon is truly blessed.

AAJ: A female jazz singer you identify yourself with?

SJ: I don't identify myself with any jazz singers. The closest would of course be Billie Holiday because of her deep emotion and conviction.

AAJ: Your most memorable concert ever?

SJ: All of them. They are always wonderful.

AAJ: Your worst show ever?

SJ: When I fell on my face years ago singing "Sweet Georgia Brown." I finished the tune and tripped on the microphone cord and fell flat on my face.

AAJ: The best concert hall or club you ever played at?

SJ: There is a music hall in Cohoes, NY called the Cohoes Music Hall. I did a concert there and the sound was incredible. The stage had a slant to it due to its age but boy what a place to perform.

AAJ: A country or venue you still want very much to sing in?

SJ: Any country or place that will accept me for who I am and what I do. I would like to work more in America. Most of my tours are in Europe and Asia.

AAJ: Your favorite song/standard?

SJ: Any song I sing is my favorite. I can't pick one special song. They are all my favorites. That's why I learn them and sing them.

AAJ: Your favorite composer?

SJ: Again, I have so many. I do love the songs Ivan Lins writes and sings. They are not songs I would sing myself due to not knowing the language but I love to hear him sing his songs.

AAJ: A story you will never forget about your career?

SJ: Working in a club in Ottawa [Canada] during one of their festivals with the bass and voice. A guy came into the club and yelled out, "Where's the piano and drums?" I replied, "In my head, man, in my head."

AAJ: The greatest ovation/applause of your career?

SJ: Again, too many to pick one. Especially, lately. I kid them now when they stand up and ask them if they are standing because they are tired of sitting. They laugh. It has been wonderful for me. I have been getting standing ovations in clubs also the last few years I have to be careful to not to expect this reaction to what we do.

AAJ: A bird that resembles your voice and swing...

SJ: I would love to say a bluebird but I guess it would be more of a crow. They have such a unique sound. You always know it's a crow when you hear one. Not the most pleasant sound but original. I guess that would be me.

AAJ: Your biggest fear?

SJ: That the music will become homogenized and not progress into new sounds by not keeping the creativity and originality intact. Mostly, not forgetting our great musicians (singers included) who have left so much of themselves for us to expand on and be inspired by.

AAJ: Your biggest joy?

SJ: Teaching young musicians and seeing their joy and amazement when the jazz addiction hits them. It is just great.

AAJ: The best tribute the jazz community could one day pay to you?

SJ: They already have. I have been able to work steadily in music since I turned 58 twenty years ago. I guess I would like to work in America a bit more but I am not complaining. I received the MAC Award from New York City last year and was honored with the Humanitarian Award in January, 2007 at the IAJE conference. This is a great honor for me.

AAJ: A word that best describes jazz?

SJ: Jazz is a music that allows us emotionally and honestly to express our lives and the lives of others.

Sheila JordanAAJ: What music do you listen to nowadays when you are at home? Do you listen to your own records?

SJ: In spring and summer the beautiful bird sounds take over. I also listen to all of Bird, Miles and Coltrane, Miles and Gil Evans, Ivan Lins. They always lift my spirits. I never listen to my recordings. I record, mix them, hear the end result and then never listen again, if I can help it. I don't like hearing myself and I always hear something I could have done differently. It's the curse of the constant improviser.

AAJ: What has changed in the USA and jazz since your days in Pennsylvania? Is this a better world?

SJ: A lot has changed since Pennsylvania and Detroit. For one thing the prejudice has really lessened. Bi-racial children and marriages between different races are more readily accepted in most parts of the US. It is a better world in many ways since my childhood. We are still growing. Give time... time...

AAJ: Sometimes in your shows you talk to the audience and ask them to "be messengers . What's your message?

SJ: My message is don't give up if you're a struggling musician (singers too). Be dedicated to the music. The payment will be making music with other musicians and feeling like one giant sound. In order to get to this level, you have to totally dedicate yourself. Don't give up when times are bad. You will always find a place to do your music. It might take some time but you will find it and that feeling of connecting with other musicians you are playing music with is something that money can never buy.


Selected Discography

Sheila Jordan, Celebration: Live at the Triad (High Note, 2005)
Sheila Jordan, Little Song (High Note, 2003)
Sheila Jordan, The Very Thought of Two (M-A, 2000)
Sheila Jordan, From the Heart (32 Jazz, 2000)
Sheila Jordan, I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass (High Note, 2000)
Sheila Jordan, Sheila's Back in Town [live] (Splasc(h), 1999)
Sheila Jordan, Jazz Child (High Note, 1999)
Sheila Jordan, Heart Strings (Muse, 1993)
Sheila Jordan, One for Junior (Muse, 1991)
Sheila Jordan, Lost and Found (Muse, 1989)
Sheila Jordan, Songs from Within (M-A, 1989)
Sheila Jordan, The Crossing (Black Hawk, 1984)
Sheila Jordan, Old Time Feeling (Muse, 1982)
Sheila Jordan, Sheila (Steeple Chase, 1977)
Sheila Jordan, Confirmation (Eastwind, 1975)
Sheila Jordan, Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Blue Note, 1963)

Related Article: A Celebration of Sheila Jordan (Artist Profile, 2005)

Photo Credits
All Photos: Courtesy of Sheila Jordan
Except Second Photo: Juan-Carlos Hernández



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