To celebrate her 80th birthday last November, Sheila Jordan hired a string quartet to accompany her regular trio of longtime collaborator and pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond in a weeklong engagement at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York. “I wanted to sing with a string quartet ever since I heard Bird With Strings,” confides the lifelong Charlie Parker fanatic. “I had worked with strings before at a festival in Vancouver, also a few times in Italy, but I had never done it in the States. And to work with strings in New York, a city I love so much, was a special treat for me. I told myself, ‘I don’t care what it costs me; I’m gonna make it happen.’ So it was my 80th birthday gift to myself.”
Her Dizzy’s gig turned out to be a major triumph. Canadian cellist Harold Birston, who had worked with Jordan before in Vancouver, wrote some special arrangements for the occasion, including a rendition of Parker’s “Confirmation” that incorporated a note-for-note transcription of Bird’s two-chorus solo. With violinist Mark Feldman also contributing virtuosic solos on pieces like Tom Harrell’s “Out to Sea,” Dave Frishberg’s “Heart’s Desire,” the Dietz-Schwartz standard “Haunted Heart” and a clever medley of Frank Loesser’s “Inch Worm” and Larry Gelb’s “The Caterpillar Song,” Jordan sang impressionistic curlicues around the notes, never quite landing directly on them but rather fluttering around them as if in zero gravity. And she delivered each tune with such personal flair and old-school charisma that she quickly won over the adoring Dizzy’s audience.