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Sheila Jordan: A Life of Honest Expression

By Published: March 12, 2007

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...

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