Sheila Jordan Bio

NEA Jazz Master, vocalist Sheila Jordan is known as "one of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers." Setting the bar in jazz by being the first recorded jazz singer with her 1962 debut Blue Note recording Portrait of Sheila and singing“You Are My Sunshine” with George Russell’s The Outer View, Jordan has since become an iconic jazz figure, influencing many other artists in the jazz vocal genre. The New York Times raves, "Her ballad performances are simply beyond the emotional and expressive capabilities of most other vocalists." Christopher Loudon of JazzTimes wrote about her Winter Sunshine recording, “Though it’s a fool’s gambit to credit any living jazz vocalist as the world’s greatest, it would be imprudent not to acknowledge that the indefatigable Sheila Jordan must rank within the top two or three.”


Jordan’s singing began in Detroit during the 1940’s where she was initially inspired by Charlie Parker, her “musical guru” and dear friend, and later moving to New York City in the early 1950’s. Moving to New York City in the early “50’s”, she sang in Greenwich Village clubs and at jam sessions with some of the city’s jazz giants, including Charles Mingus and Herbie Nichols, and studied with legendary pianist Lennie Tristano. After touring with trombonist Roswell Rudd in the late ‘70’s, Jordan became a founding member of the Steve Kuhn Quartet, where she met bassist Harvie S. (formerly known as Swartz). Soon afterward, she and Harvie formed one of the most innovative bass and voice duets traveling extensively, both nationally and internationally. Her love for the bass continued with recordings and performances with her current duo bassist Cameron Brown and their most recent recordings, I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass, The Very Thought of Two, Celebration, and Live at the Triad (NYC).


Jordan has appeared in festivals and clubs both nationally and internationally with rave reviews from critics even at the age of 89.  With over 60 recordings as a leader or guest artist, Jordan received the NEA 2012 Jazz Master Lifetime Achievement award, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Lil Hardin Armstrong Jazz Heritage Award for Excellence the IAJE Humanitarian Award, New York City MAC Award, Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz for Lifetime of Service Award, Bistro Award (for outstanding contributions to the art of jazz), International Association of Bassists Special Recognition Award, and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 


Her biography, Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan written by Ellen Johnson (Rowman & Littlefield), was nominated for the 2015 Jazz Journalists Association Awards Best Book and describes Jordan’s life, starting with her days growing up dirt poor in Pennsylvania coal country, dealing with racism and addiction, and her many achievements in the world of jazz.


For much of the last 30 years Jordan has been extremely active as a mentor and educator inspiring young singers about jazz music while making her living from a combination of touring and teaching. Sheila initiated the jazz vocal program at New York City’s City College, has been a faculty member of “Jazz in July” at the University of Massachusetts ((Amherst), visiting professor at Stanford University, taught at the New School for Social Research, Manhattan School of Music, Musica Hochschule in Graz, Austria and continues to teach workshops throughout the world. 


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