7 years ago

Volume 14 - Issue 5 - February 2009


FEATUREJOY AND JUSTICE: THE JAZZ JOURNEY OF SHEILA JORDANBy Ori DaganFrom humble beginnings to painstakingstruggles and ultimately heroic triumphs,the jazz life of Sheila Jordan could inspirean epic play with a challenging lead tocast. Blessed with a haunting voice that isat once innocent and worldly, the animatedjazz legend nicknamed Lady Bird sharesthe same birthday as Mickey Mouse. SheilaJeanette Dawson was born on November18, 1928 in Detroit to unwed teenagers.As a toddler she was sent to live withher grandparents in Summerhill, a poverty-strickencoalmining town in rural Pennsylvania."I lost a lot of self-esteem as a kid ,"Sheila recalls. "Being one of the two poorestfamilies in town, we were alwayshounded in this coal mining area. Therewas a lot of alcoholism in the family. Mygrandfather was an alcoholic and most ofthe kids in the family turned out to be alcoholics,including me , but not at thattime ... "It was in Summerhill that she began singingregularly in the beer gardens for an inebriatedcrowd of coal miners. She returned toDetroit at fourteen , but her alcoholic mother'sabusive husband drove the precociouschild to early independence. Thankfully bynow she had discovered her saviour in bebop.The innovations of modern jazz, especiallythose by its magical main man, Charlie"Bird" Parker, struck a chord deep withinthe adolescent. She inspired the song "Chasingthe Bird" and he lauded her "milliondollar ears" . They were close friends untilhis death in 1955."Bird was always verysupportive ... he was just wonderful tome ... he never made a pass at me, hetreated me like I was his little sister. Evenwith his heavy drug use and his heroinaddiction, there was a very sweet side ofhim. "In Detroit and even in New Yorkof the day, Sheila was persistently harassedfor belonging to a predominantlyblack community of jazz musicians."There was a lot of racial prejudice,but I knew I was right. These menwould stop me and ask me why I washanging out with black people - of coursethat's not the word that they would use -but I never let them scare me into notbeing what I believed in .. . I mean, I lovedthese people! I loved the excitement offinding this music and finding people likeTommy Flanagan and Kenny Burrell andBarry Harris, and Skeeter Speight and LeroyMitchell who took me in and taught me howto scat sing. I loved these people. Theychanged my whole life. I finally found a placewhere I could be comfortable within ... it wasTHENathaniel DettChoraleConnecting Through Afrocentric MusicBrainerd Blyden-TayloTi Founder and Artistic DirectorJ'oices of' the Diaspora ...DETT TO AFRI~AWed and Sat, February 25 & 28, 2009, 8pmGlenn Gould Studio, TorontoIt's a Dett reunion as NDC alumni return to joincurrent Chorale members for a program of favoriteR. Nathaniel Dett compositions and a number ofcontemporary Afrocentric choral premieres, includingAfrica by Brian Tate (commissioned for the NationalYouth Choir, and containing a combination ofGhanaian and Latin sacred texts) and Mama Africaby Sydney Guillaume.Tickets: 416-872-4255masseyhall.comroythomson.comL_lliJ Canada Trust /J{t1liC10WWW.TH EWHOLENOTE. CO MF EBRUARY 1- M AR CH 7 2009

the only thing that made me survive, in a sense ... ""The last time I got stopped in Detroit, the officer took me in aroom. He said to me 'I've got something to tell you. Do you see thisgun in this holster? I've got a 9-year-old daughter at home, and if Ithought I was going to find her like I did you tonight, with those N's, Iwould take this gun out of its holster and go home and blow her brainsout.' And that's when I thought oh my God, I have to get out of here!"A short-lived marriage to Bird's piano player, Duke Jordan,brought daughter Tracy (born 1955) into this world and the tworemain very close. Like most people in her family, Sheila battledwith addiction for years but thankfully managed to get out just intime. Very rarely a composer, she wrote a poignant song, "TheCrossing", about beating her addictions."I had a spiritual awakening. I just realized, I don't want to endup like my mother, I have many songs to sing and many kids toteach, I don't want to go out like that. I knew my spiritual awakeningcame from somebody much more powerful than I was, and itwas this message: 'I gave you a gift, and if you don't respect itand take care of it, I'm going to take it away from you.' Istopped on my own for 8 years, but in the interim I got involvedwith cocaine because I didn't know it was addictive. I just thought itwas a rich person's drug. It was very popular then ... a lot of musicianswere into it because they didn't know. But thank God thatdidn't last. That voice came back to me again, and I said, oh, I gottaget out of this, too. " For the past 32 years and in a sense, sincechildhood, Sheila's drug of choice has been the music. "It's the bestaddiction I've ever tried!" she chuckles warmly.Sheila Jordan is known in the jazz world for being the first vocalistto work exclusively with the acoustic bass in a duo format; noone has devoted more albums to this concept. Her first public performancewas at a jam session with Charles Mingus in 1950, butonly in 1977 did she release the first "bass & voice" album withArild Andersen. Currently she works with the breathtaking CameronBrown. Apart from the importance of being strongly connected,bass & voice demands that both musicians have excellent pairsof ears and a rich musical imagination. When an audience memberonce famously asked her where the piano and drums were, Sheilasaid "In my head, man, in my head!" Unable to depend financiallyon her singing career, Jordan was a legal secretary for over twentyyears while supporting daughter Tracy. At age 58 she finally retiredto focus on performing and teaching.Sheila's most recent recording, her 2lst as leader, is on the prominentCanadian jazz record label, Justin Time. Just in time for Valentine'sDay 2008, Winter Sunshine was recorded live at Upstairs inmid-February of last year. Sheila's performance on this highly recommendedrecording is inspiring. She is sharp as tack throughoutand full of good ideas. Over the years the timbre of her voice hasgrown fuller, but even if the voice weren't as strong as it still is,Sheila's art is rooted, as it always has been, in groundbreaking creativity;lyrics are cleverly improvised throughout the album. "LadyBe Good" is a precious cut that's a testament to the artist's sinceremodesty. An impressive medley of "All God's Chillun' GotRhythm" and "Little Willie Leaps" culminates in a memorable scatsolo . Also included on the album are three tracks of dialogue, allexamples of her spontaneous sense of humour. Has she always beenthe consummate entertainer?"Oh no! That only happened after years of doing it, and relaxing,and getting my self-esteem back. Actually, a lot of it was because Iwas in AA and I was dealing with my demons and realizing I'm notsuch a bad person. Before that, I was really scared ... if I stopped totry and talk, I'd stutter and that would take away from the music it feels like I'm related to my audience and we' re having aconversation."Although she does scat sing on this recording and many otherssince the 1970s, she has expressed a concern about a "scat virus"that has been going around. Back at the Art of Jazz Celebration of'07 she elaborated: "Jazz singers sometimes feel a pressure to scat -'TI(1)-""U):::r0 ""3)>3~(1)""c.D)3Feb25Feb26Feb27Feb 28Mar 1Mar3Apr2InfoPresentingPartners=:::[eTiT!TIA1truiinnsfund-r-;imenshiftA festival of Canadianand Dutch Music, Film& LiteratureFebruary 25-March 3 &April 2, 2009Authors at Harbourfront CentreDutch and Canadian film and videoI Harbourfront CentreToca Loca I Music GalleryContinuum with the Ives EnsembleI Harbourfront CentreQuatuor Bozzini I Music GalleryIves Ensemble workshop for youngcomposers I Music GalleryOpening night of The Images FestivalNotes on Composing: 5 collaborationsin film & music [ Isabel Bader Theatre(416);:~:: ·•···•· IMAGES FESTIVAL.•,w.-•. F IL M & VI Ol!O I NEW MEDIA I I NSTALLATI ON.:~.~ continuumfUJ contemporarymusicC:t.;~!Ja:-t.:irr:J:1·;•. ·11:Koninkrijk ,fer Nerlt>rl:tndtinauthors at0 Harbourfront centrech3rlos stroo1 11idoo Canada Council Conseil des Artsfor the Arts du CanadaF EBRUARY 1 - MARCH 7 2009 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE,COM 11

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