Sheila Jordan

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Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan.jpg
Background information
Birth name Sheila Jeanette Dawson
Born (1928-11-18) November 18, 1928 (age 87)
Detroit, Michigan
Genres Jazz, bebop, free jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, piano
Labels Blue Note, SteepleChase, HighNote, ECM, Eastwind, Grapevine, Palo Alto, Blackhawk, Muse, Justin Time
Associated acts Skeeter, Mitch and Jean, Steve Kuhn, George Gruntz, Harvie S, Cameron Brown, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow

Sheila Jordan (born Sheila Jeanette Dawson; November 18, 1928) is an American jazz singer and songwriter. Jordan has recorded as a session musician with an array of critically acclaimed artists in addition to a solo career. Jordan pioneered a bebop and scat jazz singing style with an upright bass as the only accompaniment.[1] Jordan's music has earned praise from many critics, particularly for her ability to improvise entire lyrics; Scott Yanow describes her as "[o]ne of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers."[2] Charlie Parker often introduced Jordan as "the singer with the million dollar ears."[1]


Sheila Jordan in 1985.

Early career[edit]

Sheila Jordan grew up in Summerhill, Pennsylvania, before returning to her birthplace of Detroit, Michigan in 1940, playing the piano and singing semi-professionally in jazz clubs. She was influenced by Charlie Parker and was part of a trio called Skeeter, Mitch and Jean (Skeeter Spight, Leroi Mitchell, Jordan was Jean), the group composed lyrics to Parker's arrangements. The trio would often attend Parker's Detroit gigs; Parker became acquainted with them and would ask them to sing.[3]

In 1951, Jordan moved to New York City and studied harmony and music theory, taught by Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus. However, Parker remained the focus of Jordan's studies and the two became good friends until Parker's death in 1955; Jordan still refers to Parker as "teacher".[4] From 1952 to 1962 she was married to Parker's pianist, Duke Jordan; the marriage produced a daughter, Tracey J. Jordan.[5]

In a 2012 interview with JazzWax, when asked why she moved to New York, Jordan stated, "I guess I was chasin' the Bird [Parker]." When asked if the song "Chasin' the Bird" was written for her, she replied, "No. I don't know how that rumor got started."[6]


In the early 1960s, Jordan had gigs and sessions in the Page Three Club in Greenwich Village, where she performed with pianist Herbie Nichols,[7] and performed in other clubs and bars in New York. For much of the 1960s, Jordan withdrew from club performing to raise her daughter. As a single mother, church performances became an appropriate venue. She supported herself by working as a typist and legal secretary for twenty years and was not able to concentrate on music full-time until she was 58 years old (1986).[8]

In 1962, she worked with George Russell, with whom she recorded the song, "You Are My Sunshine" on his album The Outer View (Riverside).[9] Later that year she recorded her Portrait of Sheila album (recorded on September 19 and October 12, 1962) which was sold to Blue Note.[1] Jordan's long working relationship with Steve Kuhn also began in the early 1960s.[10]

Jordan played with Don Heckman (1967–68), Lee Konitz (1972), Roswell Rudd (1972–75).[5]

1970s to present[edit]

In 1974, Jordan was "Artist in residence" at the City College and taught there from 1978 to 2005. In 2006, The City College announced that Jordan would be presented with the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs (MAC) Lifetime Achievement Award and celebrate 28 years as an Adjunct Professor of Music.[11] Jordan has also served as faculty for Jazz in July at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, Vermont, as well as teaching international workshops.[5][12]

On July 12, 1975, she recorded Confirmation. One year later she did the duet album Sheila, with Arild Andersen (bass) for SteepleChase. In 1979, she founded a quartet with Kuhn, Harvie S and Bob Moses. During the 1980s, she worked with Harvie S as a duo and played on several records with him. Until 1987 she worked in an advertising agency and recorded Lost and Found in 1989.

Jordan is also a songwriter and is able to work in both bebop and free jazz. In addition to the musicians previously mentioned, she has recorded with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (TCB, ECM), MA Recordings, Cameron Brown, Carla Bley (Escalator over the Hill) and Steve Swallow (Home). In addition to Blue Note, she has led recordings issued by Eastwind, Grapevine, SteepleChase, ECM, Palo Alto, Blackhawk and Muse. In the UK she appeared with former John Dankworth Band vocal legend Frank Holder scatting virtuoso Be-bop heads in unison.

In 2012, Jordan received the highest honor in jazz music, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.[13]

Her biography, Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan,[14] written by vocalist and educator Ellen Johnson[14] came out in 2014, in time for Jordan's 86th birthday.



As leader[edit]

  • Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note 1963)
  • Confirmation (East Wind, 1975)
  • Sheila (SteepleChase 1977)
  • Playground – Steve Kuhn/Sheila Jordan Band (ECM, 1980)
  • Last Year's Waltz – Steve Kuhn Quartet (ECM, 1981)
  • Old Time Feeling (Muse (1982)
  • The Crossing (Blackhawk, 1984)
  • Body and Soul (CBS/Sony 1986)
  • Lost and Found (Muse 1989)
  • Songs From Within (MA Recordings 1989)
  • One for Junior (Muse 1991)
  • Heart Strings (Muse 1993)
  • Jazz Child – Steve Kuhn Trio (1998)
  • Jazz Child (HighNote 1999)
  • Sheila's Back In Town (Splasc(h)] 2000)
  • From the Heart (32 Records, 2000)
  • Straight Ahead (YVP/Splasc(h), 2000)
  • I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass (HighNote, 2000)
  • The Very Thought of Two (MA Recordings, 2000)
  • Little Song – Steve Kuhn Trio (2002)
  • Little Song (HighNote, 2003)
  • Believe in Jazz (ELLA Productions] 2004)
  • Celebration – Live at the Triad (High Note, 2005)
  • Winter Sunshine (Justin Time 2008)

As featured vocalist[edit]

With Carla Bley

With Cameron Brown

  • Here and How! (OmniTone 1997)

With Jane Bunnett

  • The Water Is Wide (1993)

With George Gruntz

With Bob Moses

  • When Elephants Dream Of Music (Rykodisc 1982)

With Roswell Rudd

  • Flexible Flyer (Arista/Freedom 1974)

With Steve Swallow


  1. ^ a b c Latimer, Charles L. "Bebop and Beyond: Sheila Jordan Speaks". Detroit Music History. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Sheila Jordan". Artist Biography. AllMusic. Retrieved August 3, 2013. One of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers, Sheila Jordan has a relatively small voice, but has done the maximum with her instrument. 
  3. ^ Vitro, Roseanna (29 November 2012). "Sheila Jordan: Vocal Shaman". JazzTimes. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center". Sheila Jordan. National Public Radio. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c "Lifetime Honors". Biography. National Endowment for the Arts. 2012. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  6. ^ Myers, Marc (5 January 2012). "Interview: Sheila Jordan (Part 2)". JazzWax. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ Spellman, A B (1985). Four Lives in the Bebop Business. Limelight. p. 156. ISBN 0-87910-042-7. 
  8. ^ Dagan, Ori (28 January 2009). "Joy and Justice: the Jazz Journey of Sheila Jordan". TheWholeNote. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  9. ^ Witherden, Barry (May 1987). "A Singer in the Mirror". The Wire. p. 16. 
  10. ^ Reney, Tom (27 April 2012). "Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn". New England Public Radio. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Jazz Great & Ccny Music Professor Sheila Jordan Wins MAC Lifetime Achievement Award". Tribeca Performing Arts Center: The City College of New York. April 10, 2006. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  12. ^ Feather, Leonard (23 February 1989). "Sheila Jordan's Slow Rise to Recognition". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Lifetime Honors". National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. National Endowment for the Arts. 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b

External links[edit]