Chances are you don’t remember me. I’m the jazz reporter you talked to for two hours straight in 2004. The former owner of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, John Colbert, gave me your telephone number. At the time, I was writing a story about Baker’s 70th anniversary shindig that Colbert organized. It was a four night event, and you were the opening act. You had a history with Baker’s, and I wanted to quote you.
Instead of a quote, you gave me your life story. I figured I caught you on a day when you were thinking about your life. Mrs. Jordan, it was the best interview of my career, and a dream come true. You are my favorite jazz singer. I fell in love with your singing after I heard your first album “Portrait of Sheila,” which I picked up used at Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
I was out of work nearly two years. I had to sell my jazz collection, about 1500 discs. It was painful letting go of my Booker Ervin, Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman, and Yusef Lateef discs. I refused to part with my “Portrait of Sheila” album. I thought about it long and hard. I couldn’t do it. The album means that much to me. I want to be buried with it.
Every time, I played it I think about how open you were with me, a reporter that you had never met face to face. We were supposed to me after your performance at Baker's. After the set, well-wishers and autograph hounds surrounded you. I couldn't get to you. I talked to you a few days later, and I told you what happened. You were pissed that I didn't wait around. Imagine that the great Sheila Jordan pissed at me.
You told me about your rough upbringing. Your folks were dirt poor. At age 13, you moved from Pennsylvania to Detroit. You wanted to be a jazz singer after hearing a Charlie Parker record on a jukebox at your favorite after school hangout. You told me about all the flak you got because you hung out with black jazz musicians. You married bebop piano player Duke Jordan, and you explained how his drug addiction ruined the marriage. You’re with Charlie Parker the night he was banned from Birdland.
I didn’t get a usable quote for my article, but you provided me with enough information to write a 3,000 word story about your life, which detroitmusichistory.com published. I bet right now you’re wondering why I’m reminiscing about a telephone conversation that took place eight years ago.
Two weeks ago, High Note Records, mailed me your album “Yesterday,” a live recording with bass player Harvie Swartz. “Yesterday” made me think about our conversation, and why you are my favorite jazz singer.
On “Yesterday,” you sang standards such as “I Concentrate On You,” “Lazy Afternoon,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. You scrubbed the mildew off them, and you made them sound brand new. It was clever how you worked in a story about jazz critic Leonard Feather while you sang “The Very Thought of You”.
That’s one of your trademarks infusing standards with humor and personal recollections. On the “Fats Waller Medley” you sang as fast as Charlie Parker played changes. The duo format is your forte’. I wonder if you invented it. I will check with my friend, jazz historian Jim Gallert. He will know.
Lately, Mrs. Jordan, I’ve been hard on jazz singers. Most are obsessed with standards. But you’re different because you have fun with them. Wherever I get the desire to replay “Yesterday,” I will marvel about having a candid two hour conversation with one of the world’s greatest jazz singers.