In summary, Johnson’s Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan is a welcome
contribution to the field of jazz history. An emotional and gripping
statement of resilience and success against all odds, Jordan’s story is one
of cherished importance to the jazz community. Throughout the book Johnson
provides a detailed account of the artist’s life and career and succeeds
in capturing the nature and personality of Jordan in her words.

"Ms. Johnson describes how blessed a child Sheila Jordan was. This might harken back to the song that Billie Holiday sang, but it was much more than that: it is in fact a truism when it comes to Ms. Jordan. She was truly blessed, overcame poverty and a rather wretched childhood to become one of the most iconic musicians of her generation and the next. But all of this would have remained between Sheila Jordan and the world of music, between her and the listeners of her glorious recordings, that is, until Ms. Johnson was fortuitously brought into the equation. She tells Sheila Jordan’s remarkable story as if she were a weaver, bringing a magical yarn to life in a mythic quilt. The analogy is not lost on Ellen Johnson, who weaves her narrative as a living warp would interlace the weft of jazz. In her gentle manner, befitting Ms. Jordan’s own personality Ellen Johnson brings her subject’s living narrative alive. And into its design is woven the fabled lives of musicians such as Bird, George Russell, Frank Foster and the iconic bassists with whom Sheila Jordon went on to form unique and enduring musical relationships, and, of course Duke Jordan, to whom Sheila Jordan was married and with whom she had her ever-loving daughter Tracey."


"Her tale is one that needed to be told in full detail and we are fortunate that she has found in Ellen Johnson the ideal writer for this task."

"These observations about Jordan are just a few of those affirmed in the excellent new biography Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan by author Ellen Johnson. As a performer and educator herself Johnson conveys a clear understanding of modern jazz artistically and historically. She developed a professional relationship with Jordan that blossomed into a friendship. This access gives her a unique window into Jordan's world--one populated by unreliable, troubled family members, gifted modern jazz pioneers, abusive male partners, admiring instrumental and vocal musicians, grateful students mentored by Jordan's teaching, and a community of friends including her daughter Tracey."

JAZZTIMES READERS POLL 2014 -2nd Place Winner

Winners are bolded; runners-up are listed below in order of number of votes. Voters were asked to focus on releases, performances and achievements that occurred between November 2013 and late November 2014.


Herbie Hancock: Possibilities by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking) 
Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan by Ellen Johnson (Rowman & Littlefield) 
ART: Why I Stuck With a Junkie Jazzman by Laurie Pepper (APM) 
LIFE Unseen: Tony Bennett by the Editors of LIFE (LIFE/Legacy)

Ellen Johnson Discusses Her Book - Jazz Child A Portrait Of Sheila Jordan

Ellen Johnson’s Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is the seventieth volume of the Studies in Jazz Series of Rutgers University’s Institute of Jazz. In the first (and authorized, with the full cooperation of the artist) biography of the remarkable singer Sheila Jordan, Ellen Johnson “reveals the challenges [Jordan] confronted, from her growing up poor in a Pennsylvania coal mining town to her rise as a bebop singer in Detroit and New York City during the 1950s to her work as a recording artist and performer under the influence of and in performance with such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, George Russell, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. Jordan’s views as a woman living the jazz life in an era of racial and gender discrimination while surrounded by those often struggling with the twin evils of alcohol and drug abuse are skillfully woven into the tapestry of the tale she tells.” Photographs, notes, bibliography, discography, index.

"Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan" by Ellen Johnson (Rowman and Littlefield, $55, 274 pages) Jazz singer Sheila Jordan turned 86 this year, but she's still going strong. Named a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts, she's finally the subject of a complete biography. "Jazz Child" spans her life from childhood in a Pennsylvania coal town to her breakthrough as a recording artist on the Blue Note label, her association with jazz luminaries such as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins and her marriage to Parker's pianist, Duke Jordan. Author Ellen Johnson, who lives in Hercules, includes interviews with Rollins, Kenny Burrell, Kurt Elling and others.

"The recently published Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan provides a wealth of details and stories that gird the clear picture of Jordan that emerges if you’ve enjoyed just a few songs or a set from the completely transparent, adventurous and engaging artist.

Written by Ellen Johnson, herself a vocalist and friend of Jordan, the biography is extremely sympathetic and filled with admiration for its subject. Beyond their friendship, the book is informed by substantial research so that at times it feels as much like a Master’s thesis as a biography, and indeed, the book is part of the Studies in Jazz series released under Rutgers University’s auspices." 

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"This thing used to happen to Sheila Jordan. Some jazz journalist would interview her about her fascinating life, and the writer would say, we should do a book together. And she'd say, great. And then nothing would happen. I know because I was one of those useless writers, so I was pleased and relieved to get Ellen Johnson's book "Jazz Child: A Portrait Of Sheila Jordan," much of it in the singer's own words." 




Conversations Book Club President and media personality Cyrus Webb is excited to release his picks for Top 100 Books of 2014.

#8 - Jazzchild: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan by Ellen Johnson (Rowman & Littlefield)

"I have read hundreds of great books this year, but these 100 (50 Fiction and 50 Non-Fiction) that I have picked are truly the best of the best for adults." - Cyrus Webb

Founded in November 2006, CONVERSATIONS has set a new standard for all literary organizations. We not only discuss books, but we get the opportunity to enjoy a conference call Q&A or physical visit with the author as well. 

Click link to read entire review


"That Ellen Johnson's revealing portrait of Sheila Jordan is the first full biography of the eighty five-year old Pennsylvanian-born singer reaffirms the notion that the dominant jazz narrative has always lionized certain artists to the exclusion of others. As the progenitor of the bass and vocal duo Jordan was an innovative figure from the get go. Instigator of arguably the first solo jazz vocal program in America in the late 1970s and one of the finest exponents of scat that's ever drawn breath, Jordan's influence as a creative musician and educator has been significant yet until quite late in her life, undervalued. Jordan's rightful place in the annals of jazz history, Johnson notes, is in part because she "helped blaze a path for women in music during a suppressed era." That era in question was the bebop era of the 1940s and 1950s, when Jordan first set out on an extraordinary journey that has justifiably brought her comparison with Billie Holidayand Betty Carter."

"Jordan's first award came over fifty years ago following the release of Portrait of Sheila, when she won the 1963 Downbeat Critics Poll for "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition." Johnson's eloquently written, eminently readable book makes much the same case for the indefatigable Jordan, half a century on."


"The very welcome publication of Ellen Johnson’s new biographyJazz Child: A Portrait Of Sheila Jordan, prompts not only a review of this book but also a few very brief comments about CDs. This is because the book’s arrival not only sent me to albums recorded by the subject of Jazz Child but also to some of those recorded by the author herself.

For some decades now, Ellen Johnson has vividly demonstrated that she is a remarkably gifted exponent of that same difficult art at which Sheila Jordan excels. Indeed, not only does Ellen sing jazz, she also teaches jazz singing. During the past several years I have had enormous pleasure in listening to and writing about her albums, sometimes in Jazz Journal, other times on my old website. Among these albums are Too Good To TitleChinchilla Serenade andThese Days, all on Ellen’s own label, Vocal Visions (numbered respectively 2300, 2310 and 2700).ellen j cd"


"For many reasons Jazz Child: A Portrait Of Sheila Jordan is a book that should be read not only by those with a specific interest in jazz singing, but also those whose interests in jazz extend to the life of jazz musicians in general, and those active during the early days of bebop in particular. It should also interest anyone who wishes to follow the inspirational tale of a woman who was determined to make her way through a minefield of antipathy and antagonism to achieve what is in essence a simple ambition: to sing her song."



"Jordan displays the same modesty about her newly released biography: Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan, by Ellen Johnson (Rowman & Littlefield). "I never thought about doing a book. I didn't have that much to say; I'm not that interesting," Jordan alleges. "Ellen just got on it. She wouldn't let me off the hook, bless her heart. I'm shocked that someone would
take seven years of her life to write a book about me. I'm honored by what she's done." The book delves into details beyond the "Sheila's Blues" lyrics, into childhood hard- ship, racial prejudice, Jordan's experiences as a single mother of a biracial child, addic- tion and almost 30 years as a typist for a Mad Men-era advertising agency."

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Ellen Johnson's Jazz Child tells not just the story of a legend but the power of music - 5 stars

Music has a way of telling a story that is not just universal but accurately tells the feelings and passions of a person like nothing else. Couple that with a well written journey of a true legend, and you will see why Ellen Johnson's JAZZ CHILD: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan is so powerful.

The book not just tells her story but gives the world as a backdrop to show how living in the time that she did and doing the things she did was not just amazing but courageous in a way that many may not otherwise appreciate. Johnson captures not just what drives Sheila musically but what her life has come to mean not just for her but others.

I knew very little about Jordan's life before this book. I guess because she has been able to tell her story best through music. Now we have another reason to not just appreciate her gift vocally but in living a life that others can find inspiration in.

Filled with memories, music and decisions that have shaped a generation, JAZZ CHILD is a beautiful testament to a life that has not just been well lived but continues to resonate with others today and those to come.

“It’s about time that somebody wrote a book about Sheila Jordan…people need to hear something real that’s going to make a difference in their life. This is a message that the world needs.” 

"Ellen Johnson's portrait of Sheila Jordan captures the warmth, modesty, determination and sublime creativity of a unique woman who's become a jazz master and American cultural hero. We read about a golden age of jazz in Detroit and New York City; interracial friendships and romances; abuse, addiction and recovery, motherhood and triumph -- all in the service of illuminating a life of beautiful music." 

“Determined and uncompromising are two words that help define Sheila Jordan. This remarkable jazz singer's tale needed to be told and we are fortunate that she has found in Ellen Johnson the ideal writer for this task.”  

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“Sheila Jordan is not only a consistently creative and always-wonderful jazz singer but a nurturing educator, a wise sage, and an utterly fascinating human being. Ellen Johnson has done the jazz world a great favor not only by writing the first biography on Sheila Jordan but by putting together a definitive work that is enjoyable to read.”