Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


November/December 2011: Randy Brecker

Sheila Jordan: Jazz Master

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Since the early 2000s I have had the privilege of knowing and sometimes performing with legendary vocalist Sheila Jordan.

Born in Detroit in 1928, Sheila started singing in clubs at a young age, eventually falling under the spell of the musicians at the forefront of the bebop revolution, especially Charlie Parker, whose pianist, Duke Jordan, she married in the early 1950s. “I thought I needed piano lessons,” she told a group of students, “so Charles Mingus and Max Roach took me to see Lennie Tristano…” Mythical figures to us, but friends, mentors and peers to Sheila, who, along with Jon Hendricks, is one of the living links to that incredible musical era.

A fearless artist, she developed a unique and instantly identifiable sound, combining her mastery of swing and bop phraseology with influences from, among other sources, her Native American ancestry. She pioneered the bass/voice duo format, which she first explored with Mingus and later with Harvie Swartz and Cameron Brown.

Sheila has collaborated with a diverse range of artists, from composer George Russell and pianist Steve Kuhn to avant-garde pioneers Don Cherry and Roswell Rudd, but has always returned to the standards and bebop tunes that are closest to her heart. In addition to being a riveting performer, she is a generous and gifted teacher and clinician.

Recently Sheila was given the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award, a well-deserved honour for one of the true originals and great proselytizers for this wonderful music.


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