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Sheila Jordan: Vocal Shaman

Roseanna Vitro speaks with influential singer who was recently named an NEA Jazz Master

Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan (photo: Peter Clampitt)

Sheila Jordan is a one-of-a-kind artist who possesses the power to captivate audiences, inviting all to join her on a magical mystery tour of jazz history. She is a native of Detroit, where she flowered from rich soil, and she wears the bloom of her youth proudly. The sounds of her upbringing serve as a springboard for her creativity and continue to inform all that she sings – even her interpretations of works by modern-day composers. She refuses to be fossilized in a style or placed in a time capsule. No bell jar for her.

I was lucky to catch Sheila at the Blue Note jazz club in New York, where she recently celebrated her 84th birthday. It reminded me of why I’ve loved her all these years. In my own teaching, I play Sheila’s version of “Falling in Love With Love” from her iconic recording, A Portrait of Sheila. I use it to demonstrate the art of improvising using lyrics-the development of chorus after chorus without scatting even one syllable.

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