Sheila Jordan: Live At Mezzrow

This 2021 New York date by the 93-year-old bebop songbird finds her in forthright and authoritative form albeit a little diminished of voice

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Sheila Jordan is 93 years old. She befriended Charlie Parker in Detroit in the early 1950s, who nicknamed her “the lady with the million-dollar-ears”. Jordan is not only an expressive singer of the Great American Songbook but a gifted vocalese artist who put lyrics to Bird’s bebop anthems.

On account of it being released on Blue Note, 1962’s Portrait Of Sheila usually serves to introduce Jordan to burgeoning jazz buffs; it is fine example, but hardly characteristic of her work. Her turbulent career path in New York City, where she also earned a living as typist and advertising employee, is strewn with front-running collaborations with the likes of Roswell Rudd and Carla Bley.

Live At Mezzrow is a trio session including pianist Alan Broadbent and Harvey S (formerly Schwartz). Her association with S goes back to the 1980s, when they produced several vocal and bass duets.

While Jordan’s voice is rather hoarse and her range has become limited and wavering (distracting but totally acceptable considering her age), her phrasing is in working order and her delivery is forthright and authoritative.

Jordan’s memories of Charlie Parker strike a chord. Abbey Lincoln’s Bird Alone is stately and melancholic. Her medley of Shirley Horn’s The Bird and Parker’s Confirmation ups the ante, mixing witty references to Clint Eastwood (the director of Parker biopic Bird) and Jordan’s ex-husband and Bird’s pianist Duke Jordan with uplifting scat improvisations. The Charlie Parker songs clearly eclipse the half-polished rigs of Autumn In New York and The Touch Of Your Lips.

The strong bass playing by S and assertive piano accompaniment of Broadbent perfectly underline Jordan’s streetwise performances and their duet of What Is This Thing Called Love is gorgeous. Both Jordan and S breathe new life into the blues-drenched Baltimore Oriole, Hoagy Carmichael’s famous love song – significantly, another “bird tune”. Free flight remains the core business of this charming survivor of jazz singing.

Discography
Bird Alone; The Touch Of Your Lips; What Is This Thing Called Love; The Bird & Confirmation; Look For The Silver Lining; Falling In Love With Love; Baltimore Oriole; Blue In Green; Autumn In New York; Lucky To Be Me (57.51)
Jordan (v); Alan Broadbent (p); Harvey S (b); New York City, 25 October 2021.
Cellar Live CMSLF002