You want to get the word about Bird? Sheila Jordan, doyenne of jazz singers and 93 years young, continues to share the gospel of bebop, weaving songs and stories about Charlie Parker into every set. Her first live album in 10 years, Live at Mezzrow, is a welcome addition to a discography that got off to a famously late start and the inaugural release of the SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series.
2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the release of her classic debut album on Blue Note, Portrait of Sheila; she didn’t record again under her own name for more than a decade. Yet today, Jordan is still a creative force who sings praises and thanks to her flighty mentor. She opens the Mezzrow show with Abbey Lincoln’s melancholy but reverent “Bird Alone” and soon follows up with a signature medley of her original tribute “The Bird” (with some pointed critique of Clint Eastwood’s 1988 biopic Bird) and Parker’s celebrated anthem “Confirmation.”
If her voice shows wear and tear, Jordan is utterly at home on stage, adlibbing lyrics and kibitzing with the audience and her superlative collaborators. Pianist Alan Broadbent and bassist Harvie S—mere lads at 75 and 73, respectively—are among the most distinguished of vocal accompanists. Broadbent has recorded with Natalie Cole and Sue Raney, Karrin Allyson and Jane Monheit, Diana Krall and, most importantly, Irene Kral. He also shares a lot of history with Jordan, though S goes back even farther, to her fruitful early-’80s collaboration with Steve Kuhn.
Jordan closes the set with two gems. Starting in the middle of the rarely heard verse, she fills “Autumn in New York” with a palpable sense of regret, then swings insouciantly through “Lucky to Be Me,” capturing the sentiment of anyone fortunate enough to share her presence.