Sheila Jordan: A Life of Honest Expression

Joao Moreira dos Santos By

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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

About Sheila Jordan
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