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A Conversation with Jazz Master, Sheila Jordan

From: National Endowment for the Arts
Series: Art Works Podcast
Length: 34:49

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2011 NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan talks about her life in jazz. [34:48]

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Sheila Jordan is one of the great singers in jazz. In fact this podcast opens with her amazing cover of "Hum Drum Blues!"

A superb scat singer, she can just as easily reach the emotional depths of a ballad. Whether singing well-known standards or original material, Sheila Jordan makes it all sound like no one else on Earth. 

Sheila Jordan grew up in Pennsylvania's coal mining country with her grandparents, singing in school and on amateur radio shows. In the early 1940s, she returned to live with her mother in Detroit, where she heard a Charlie Parker recording. It changed her life; from that moment on she devoted herself to jazz. She met some of Detroit's young musicians during that time, such as Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, and Barry Harris. And as a part of the trio Skeeter, Mitch and Jean---she was Jean, sang versions of Parker's bebop solos. When she moved to New York City in the early '50s, Jordan sang in clubs and at jam sessions with some of the city's jazz giants, including Charles Mingus, Herbie Nichols, and Charlie Parker. In 1952, she married Parker's pianist, Duke Jordan. But the pianist was addicted to heroin and abandoned his family. Sheila Jordan worked for years as a secretary in an advertising firm but she still managed to keep the music in her life by singing in clubs and churches.

In 1962, with her first recording, she showed her vocal finesse with a ten-minute version of "You Are My Sunshine" on George Russell's album,The Outer View. Thanks to Russell, she released her first album, Portrait of Sheila, on Blue Note, and became the first female vocalist to record for the label. Jordan became a member of the Steve Kuhn Quartet. And is the pioneer in bass/voice duo in jazz.

From the late 1970s until 2005, Jordan taught jazz vocal workshops at the City College of New York. She continues to run workshops both locally and internationally. Sheila Jordan has received several honors, including the 2008 Mary Lou Williams Award for a Lifetime of Service to Jazz and now she's been named an NEA Jazz Master.

Piece Description

Sheila Jordan is one of the great singers in jazz. In fact this podcast opens with her amazing cover of "Hum Drum Blues!"

A superb scat singer, she can just as easily reach the emotional depths of a ballad. Whether singing well-known standards or original material, Sheila Jordan makes it all sound like no one else on Earth. 

Sheila Jordan grew up in Pennsylvania's coal mining country with her grandparents, singing in school and on amateur radio shows. In the early 1940s, she returned to live with her mother in Detroit, where she heard a Charlie Parker recording. It changed her life; from that moment on she devoted herself to jazz. She met some of Detroit's young musicians during that time, such as Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, and Barry Harris. And as a part of the trio Skeeter, Mitch and Jean---she was Jean, sang versions of Parker's bebop solos. When she moved to New York City in the early '50s, Jordan sang in clubs and at jam sessions with some of the city's jazz giants, including Charles Mingus, Herbie Nichols, and Charlie Parker. In 1952, she married Parker's pianist, Duke Jordan. But the pianist was addicted to heroin and abandoned his family. Sheila Jordan worked for years as a secretary in an advertising firm but she still managed to keep the music in her life by singing in clubs and churches.

In 1962, with her first recording, she showed her vocal finesse with a ten-minute version of "You Are My Sunshine" on George Russell's album,The Outer View. Thanks to Russell, she released her first album, Portrait of Sheila, on Blue Note, and became the first female vocalist to record for the label. Jordan became a member of the Steve Kuhn Quartet. And is the pioneer in bass/voice duo in jazz.

From the late 1970s until 2005, Jordan taught jazz vocal workshops at the City College of New York. She continues to run workshops both locally and internationally. Sheila Jordan has received several honors, including the 2008 Mary Lou Williams Award for a Lifetime of Service to Jazz and now she's been named an NEA Jazz Master.

Transcript

Transcript of conversation with Sheila Jordan

Life can be mighty monotonous,
We're always battlin' boredom;
Where, tell me where has it gotten us?
Everything's still so doggone hum-drum!

Stuck in a rut, gettin' nowhere fast!
Ooooooh, I got the hum-drum blues!
Fightin' the future and mad at the past!
Ahhhha-aaaaa, I got the hum-drum blues!

Ooh honey,
When you ain't got money,
Then you just can't do as you choose;
Just gotta live with the hum-drum blues! (fades under host)

That was singer and 2012 Jazz master Sheila Jordan singing "Hum Drum Blues."

Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. I'm your host Josephine Reed.

Sheila Jordan is one of the great singers in jazz. A superb scat singer, she can just as easily reach the emotional depths of a ballad. Whether singing well-known standards or origin...
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Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
Hum Drum Blues Sheila Jordan Portrait of Sheila. Blue Note :00
Confirmation Sheila Jordan Confirmation. Test of Time Records :00
You Are My Sunshine George Russell Sextet (feat. Sheila Jordan) The Outer View. Concord Music Group :00
Falling in Love with Love Sheila Jordan Portrait of Sheila. Blue Note :00