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October 30, 2008

Interview with Jazz Vocal Master Sheila Jordan

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz concerts, Canada

Dear readers;

Sheila Jordan recently performed in Edmonton and Calgary in celebration of her upcoming 80th birthday November 18th. Ms. Jordan wowed everyone with her vibrant, powerful performances and touched hearts young and old, proving why she’s considered one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. Ms. Jordan will be returning to Canada to perform at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal on November 21 & 22.

The article below was contributed by Dennis Slater, who interviewed Ms. Jordan before her performance in Calgary October 27th at the Centre for Positive Living. Dennis Slater is a Calgary author, educator, and curator, known for his published works of fiction, nonfiction, and jazz writings. Dennis teaches at the University of Calgary and works as chief curator and archivist for the Calgary Health Region collections.

Sheila Jordan

Dennis Slater Interviews Sheila Jordan

She has a message for us

In 1950, Sheila Jordan left home and moved to New York to see the legendary Charlie Parker. It was the natural next step in Jordan’s love of jazz but it was also the beginning of a friendship with Charlie “Bird” Parker that was life-changing. “I never had any aspects of being a big star or anything,” Jordan observes, “I never set out to do that. I just heard Bird when I was a kid and I always loved to sing but I didn’t know what kind of music. Then I heard him at fourteen and I said that’s the music I’ll dedicate my life to, whether I sing it, whether I teach it, or whether I just go and support it in clubs and concerts.”

Jordan certainly dedicated herself to the music but it soon far exceeded supporting jazz in the clubs and concerts. It was the start of Sheila’s legendary career as a jazz vocalist, it saved her life, and she decided on a mission. Sheila Jordan became a messenger for jazz, a mission that’s as much a part of her singing as it is her incredible career as a jazz vocals teacher. Set to celebrate her 80th birthday next month, and with recordings and club appearances consistently on the rise, it’s fair to say that Jordan’s message is getting through loud and clear. “I just said I’ll just go be myself, the same way I do in the music,” says Jordan of her first teaching gig at City College in New York, “I’m just this messenger, and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll be this messenger from singing it to teaching it … I give my all. I give the same as if I were singing, I give my all in teaching and in singing and it’s just keeping the music alive and getting the message out there that’s why I call myself a messenger of the music.”

Jordan has consistently given her all but over the years critics haven’t always supported her musical message or directions. In recent years that’s changed though, and Jordan has demonstrated why she’s one of the true jazz giants. She laughs when I ask why her popularity has risen over the last decade. “I guess they started taking me serious because I didn’t give up.” Jordan says, “A lot of people give up and that’s one of the things I teach. No matter how bad it gets, how hard it gets, don’t give up if you really love it, you have to dedicate your life to this music. That’s what I’ve done and I set out to do that and I’ve always had this dedication.”

The dedication has paid off. Jordan is one of the most influential jazz vocalists to come out of the Bebop tradition, and her fame has allowed her to bring her message to wider audiences. “At this age, you know, I just want to be this messenger,” Sheila observes, “I don’t want to do anything else. I’m sure if I had an agent I would work more in the United States but I have so much work now, I mean it’s incredible, you know, I’ve been out so much this year. Every year it gets more and more and more. I mean, I’m booked up through April and then May I have off so far and then to the end of June I have workshops, in July I have workshops, and concerts in Italy and also workshops in the United States so I’m doing okay. I can’t complain.”

*Article contributed by Dennis Slater

for more info visit www.sheilajordanjazz.com

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