Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Though the hundred or so people in attendance at Proctors’ GE Theater in Schenectady didn’t really reflect the stature and drawing power that 80-something jazz singer and American musical icon Shelia Jordan could pull in anywhere else in the known cosmopolitan universe, she and her trio effortlessly wooed the audience with a brilliant two-set performance of standards and improvised classics.
Yes, improvised classics.
You see, Sheila Jordan didn’t come out of the swing band tradition of the 1940s and ’50s like her idol Ella Fitzgerald. Rather, she is one of a very few singers who emerged out of a relative “nowhere” to sing the ground breaking be-bop style of the day by working first hand with its inventors and practitioners way back in its infancy.
Back then Jordan knew the music of Charlie Parker, Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and many others, both intimately and as a collaborator with many of them.
If you don’t believe it, well, you certainly would have if you had been in attendance at the Eighth Step that night, because she sang about it panoramically, with great pride and unsurpassed passion, and with a whole lot of vocal improvisation in between. Jordan learned to use her voice as an instrument – bending and stretching it within the musical context of the song at hand.
Throughout the concert, all eyes and ears were glued to Sheila’s stories and high-flying style of scat singing. Her trio – bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Billy Drummond and pianist Ray Gallon – were on board for the same musical journey. And for all concerned, there was nothing better or greater happening anywhere else in the whole of Nippertown.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Musically her second set peaked with Jimmy Webb’s sumptuous ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ — sweet, slow and sad — but emotionally, a cameo by Jody Shayne in ‘The Very Thought of You’ was tops — friendly and fun. Jordan sang Sonny Rollins’ ‘Ladies Be Careful’ for its comedy without slighting the music, exhorting Drummond to solo by chanting his name repeatedly; then she sang her life story in ‘Sheila’s Blues.’ Mourning a departed friend, and celebrating life, she encored with the tender ‘The Crossing.’ Jordan sometimes slid to a note rather than nailing it immediately, and she often tinkered with the chords, transposing and nudging familiar songs into new sonorities. However, despite her frequently intense, though generally soft-spoken audacious melodic mutations, Jordan isn’t a transformative artist like her idols Ella, Billie, Sarah or Abbey. Yet she remains, at 83, a very satisfying one — musically and emotionally — with a marvelous expressiveness, effortless swing and unforced and very genuine emotional intensity.”