Sheila Jordan Bio

NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan is known as "one of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers." The New York Times raved, "Her ballad performances are simply beyond the emotional and expressive capabilities of most other vocalists." Christopher Loudon wrote in JazzTimes, “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.” 


Starting her career in Detroit during the 1940’s Jordan was inspired by Charlie Parker, her “musical guru” and friend, later "following the Bird" to New York City. In the early 1950’s Jordan sang in Greenwich Village clubs and at jam sessions with many of the New York jazz giants, including Charles Mingus and Herbie Nichols and later studied with legendary pianist Lennie Tristano. Jordan was the first jazz singer to record on Blue Note in 1962 (Portrait of Sheila) and sang on George Russel's The Outer View the beloved "You Are My Sunshine" influencing a multitude of jazz artists. 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. Soon afterward, she and Harvie formed one of the most innovative bass and voice duets traveling extensively and recording their classic performances. Jordan continued her love for the bass by pairing up with Cameron Brown touring and recording I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass, The Very Thought of Two, Celebration, and Live at the Triad (NYC).


Even as an octogenarian, Jordan has toured nationally and internationally with rave reviews. With well over 60 recordings as a leader or guest artist Jordan has received the NEA 2012 Jazz Master Lifetime Achievement award, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Lil Hardin Armstrong Jazz Heritage Award for Excellence, 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 describing Jordan’s life, starting with her days growing up in poverty in Pennsylvania coal country, dealing with racism and addiction, and her many achievements in the world of jazz.


Jordan has also been extremely active as a mentor and educator inspiring young singers to participate in the jazz music community. 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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