Sheila Jordan

with Pete Churchill Trio and String Quartet

Event Has Passed

Last Show: Thursday 12 th April 2018

PizzaExpress Jazz Club (Soho)

Described by Scott Yanow as "one of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers", Sheila Jordan returns to Dean Street with one of her most cherished projects, as she teams up with Pete Churchill Trio and a string quartet. At 89 years old, Jordan is a legendary figure in jazz history - an NEA jazz master, critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, and the first singer to record for Blue Note records.

“the singer with the million dollar ears.”

Charlie Parker

Born Sheila Jeanette Dawson in Detroit in 1929, Sheila was raised in the poverty of Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country. She found her voice as a singer early in her childhood, noting that singing was a way to ward off pain. “I was very unhappy as a little kid,” she told NPR’s Eric Westervelt. “The way I got rid of that was to sing, so I was constantly singing.” Sheila sang so much that she was working semi-professionally in Detroit clubs as a teenager. Yet her affinity for working with black musicians subjected her to serious racism as she worked to establish herself as a professional musician. Discovering the music of Charlie Parker set Sheila on an unwavering path through bebop, and she was forever influenced more heavily by instrumentalists than vocalists. Her determination to hear Parker in person in a Detroit club, as a 14-year-old, was recounted in an interview for MPR:

"You had to be 21 years old to get in there and I said, “Oh, I’ve got to hear my hero!” And I forged my mother’s birth certificate and I dyed my hair blonde and I wore a hat with a veil and high-heeled shoes and I was smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette, unfiltered, and I was sure I was going to get in the door smoking my cigarette and going through the whole trip. And I got to the door and the man said, “No no no, you can’t come in here. Hey, you better go home and do your homework, little white girl.” And I was so disappointed. And then I went around in the alley and sat on the garbage cans. Now, Bird was by the door so he heard all of this. He went to the back door of that club and he stood there at one point and played. The door was open and I sat on the garbage cans and Charlie Parker played for me. And it was incredible."

After moving to New York in the early 50s, she married Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan, and studied with Lennie Tristano, making her first recordings under her own name in the early 60s. She also recorded The Outer View with George Russell which included her famous 10-minute arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Sheila continued working in the 60s and 70s despite a lack of broad appeal — the vocal equivalent of bebop was slow to catch on with American jazz audiences. She began finding more success in the late 70s, appearing more often on recordings, including albums with pianist Steve Kuhn, and releasing Home, a selection of Robert Creeley’s poems set to music and arranged by Steve Swallow. After sitting in with Charles Mingus on an impromptu bass-voice duet, Sheila began a long series of duo performances with bassists, releasing Old Time Feeling in 1983 with Harvie Swartz (aka Harvie S). These albums reflected what are now recognized as Sheila Jordan signatures, such as her use of frequent and unexpected changes of pitch. Her trademark collaboration with bassists in duo format led to a long-standing relationship with Cameron Brown, with whom she still performs after two decades.

In addition to performing, Sheila gained a reputation as a talented educator, running workshops and teaching on college faculties throughout her career. Sheila was named an NEA Jazz Master for 2012, and is the subject of an insightful biography by Ellen Johnson, Jazz Child, published in 2014. Now 89, Sheila shows no signs of slowing down.

For Sheila Jordan Vocal Jazz Workshop on Monday April 9th (from 12.30 to 4.30pm), please click here