Jazz Vocalist, Sheila Jordan, Celebrates Her 84th Birthday in an Intimate Duo Concert with Pianist, Steve Kuhn at The Blue Note, N.Y.C., November 19, 2012
By E. Joyce Glasgow, www.artsandculturescene.com
Surrounded by well -wishing family, friends, colleagues and old and new fans, some who came to New York especially to hear her, from as far away as Whidbey Island, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico, jazz vocalist, Sheila Jordan performed a relaxed, intimate and warm evening of music in celebration of her 84th birthday, with her long time friend and musical colleague, jazz pianist, Steve Kuhn, at the Blue Note, in New York City, on November 19th, 2012.
Eternally youthful and poised, with a joyful, infectious smile, Jordan wore a full length golden/green coat and one of her iconic, sequined hats, casually and comfortably interacting with her audience and with Kuhn, on piano. Sheila Jordan is a musician's musician, a singer's singer, one who tells stories with her songs, and those in the know are in awe of her individual, authentic jazz style, her fluid scatting, her honeyed, deep, emotionally evocative voice, and her ability to make the lyrics of songs come alive as well as improvising lyrics on the spot, spontaneously and effortlessly. Jordan, well- respected and admired in the jazz world for her non-compromising dedication and love for the purity of the jazz form, eschewing commercialism, has spent years performing and teaching internationally, inspiring younger generations of aspiring jazz vocalists. She was the first vocalist ever signed to Blue Note Records and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master for 2012 and on this birthday celebratory evening, encouraging her audience at the Blue Note to never give up following their calling, she revealed that she didn't start her performance career until she was 58 years old.
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Jordan had the good fortune to hear and be inspired by Charlie "Yardbird" Parker and shared an anecdote about being too young to enter a jazz club at 14, she went and sat on the garbage cans by the back door, and knowing she was there, "Bird" opened the door and "played his heart out" for her. She also drew great inspiration to become a jazz vocalist by listening to Ella Fitzgerald.
My first times hearing Jordan, were in her duo concerts with bassist, Harvie Swartz (also known now as "Harvie S.") years ago and I was blown away by her musicianship and the sublime musical fluidity and authenticity between the two performers, really listening to one another, in dynamic and exciting musical conversations.
I have since heard her over the years with different musical collaborators and have particularly enjoyed her duos with bassist, Cameron Brown and her duets with her old friend and fellow jazz vocal "adventurer", Jay Clayton. Her duet with Kuhn at the Blue Note, was gentle and easy and a total natural, as you would expect from musically seasoned old friends.
Over the course of their two sets, Jordan and Kuhn performed a diverse group of songs including; "Wouldn't it be Loverly"; "All or Nothing at All"; "Baltimore Oriole"; "Falling in Love With Love"; "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"; "Pent Up House", by Sonny Rollins ( Jordan had just enjoyed Rollins in concert in Germany a week earlier); " If I Should Loose You" (which she was inspired to sing by Charlie Parker's version); the ballad, "Heart's Desire, by jazz artists, Allen Broadbent and Dave Frishberg; Leonard Bernstein's, " Lucky to Be Me"; "Look for the Silver Lining"; "The Masquerade is Over"; "Hum Drum Blues" and Steve Kuhn's original pieces, "Tomorrow's Son and " Life's Backward Glance".
Interspersed, through the performance, Jordan invited the audience to sing a lively scat number along with her, to which the audience enthusiastically and adeptly obliged and at another point invited anyone who wanted to get up on the stage and sing with her in what might be called a singers' "workshop blues". About five well-seasoned vocal pros got up and performed short scat improvisations, in homage to Jordan, including recent Grammy nominee, Roseanna Vitro.
In each set Steve Kuhn stretched out in piano solo pieces and in one in particular, created a woven tapestry and stream of consciousness musical journey through "Once Upon a Time", "You Stepped Out of A Dream", "Emily", and reprising bits of "Falling in Love with Love" along with other musical themes.
A couple of sweet highlights of the evening were when Jordan sang the playful, charming, child -themed, Bobby Timmons/Oscar Brown, Jr. tune, "Dat Dere", to her adult daughter, Traci, beaming in the front row and reminisced over singing it to her when she was a young girl and later when Traci came up on the stage with Jordan's chocolate birthday cake, candles ablaze and we all sang "Happy Birthday".
Long after the noisy throngs of revelers were gone and almost all the lights in the Blue Note were out, some of us remained to share the rich, sweet birthday cake with Jordan, who sent us off into the night with generous pieces of her cake, to take home as a memory of this very special occasion.
Though 84, Jordan may well as be 48, and as she said "age is just a number". Jazz is her life's blood and her fountain of youth. One of the last to leave the club at 1 AM, looking as fresh, happy, radiant and energetic as ever, after two sets, she went off to prepare for up-coming performances in Boston, Mass. and Berkeley, Ca. In April 2013, she will be on tour in Japan.
For more information about Sheila Jordan, visit: www.sheilajordanjazz.com
For more information about Steve Kuhn, visit: www.stevekuhnmusic.com
For more information about upcoming performances at The Blue Note, visit: www.bluenote.net