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Eighth Step - GE Theater Proctors
Schenectady, NY
October 6, 2007

by Tom Pierce

Music observers have typically used adjectives such as “unconventional”, “spontaneous” and “unpredictable”, to describe legendary singer Sheila Jordan. But attendees Saturday night Oct 6, 2007 at the Eighth Step productions opening of the new 436 seat GE Proctors Theater would likely have chosen “delightful”. Her warm, open, free-wheeling persona came across as so natural and genuine, one was irresistibly drawn in; and her quick-witted sense of humor and sense of irony inevitably charmed the audience, even before she begins singing.

This Jazz vocal icon, who turns 79 on November 18, was comfortably in her element, because of the presence of many admirers, friends and family, as well as her longtime excellent collaborators, pianist Steve Kuhn and bassist Cameron Brown. Midway in the first set, Kuhn played an engrossing solo number, Johnny Mandel's lovely composition “Emily”, followed by his own “The Zoo”, which is on Jordan's 1999 High Note release with him. High Note followed this up in 2000 with her first duo recording with Cameron Brown, “I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass”, alluding to her prior recordings with bassist Harvie Swartz.

This reviewer's initial introduction was her debut recording, the classic 1963 Blue Note album, “Portrait of Sheila”, one of the very few vocal releases on that venerable Jazz label. Her engaging performance Saturday, where she was in exceptional voice, included two choice songs with Oscar Brown Jr lyrics from that LP - his own composition, “Hum Drum Blues” and pianist's Bobby Timmons' “Dat Dere”.

Jazz critics have often focused on her consistent ability to swing in all tempos, whether singing lyrics or scatting. She clearly demonstrated this Saturday on selections such as a smooth medium tempo “Comes Love”, an invigorating up tempo take on Sonny Rollins' “Pent Up House” and a mellow “Lady Be Good”. The latter was introduced with her own storyline verse about saving up money at age 8 or 9 to buy this record, in an ill-fated attempt to learn to scat like Ella Fitzgerald. An obviously valuable adjunct to the swinging is her creative improvising, exemplified especially with her take on standards such as “Autumn in New York” and “How Deep is the Ocean”, where her seemingly loose, playful approach interestingly contrasts with her professionally serious intent.

However, in reflecting also on the beautifully lyrical dimensions to her performance, in songs like Cole Porter's “I Concentrate on You” and her touching tribute to Miles Davis, where her own tender “Ballad for Miles” morphs into “My Funny Valentine” (one of his favorite ballads), I was reminded of two other renowned Jazz vocalists whose idiosyncratic swinging and unique phrasing ability sometimes overshadowed the alluring beauty of their story telling - Billie Holiday and Anita O'Day.

Throughout the evening, Jordan intertwined her vocalizing with wide-ranging recollections of her life, from the early days with Charlie Parker in the 40's up to her recent computer gremlins and other everyday problems. This was all handled in a fashion so seamless and engaging, that even when she once momentarily lost track and remarked “where was I going with that?”, the audience still found it entertaining.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, she performed a fitting encore to cap the evening - her own powerfully spiritual composition, “The Crossing”, which she acknowledged came after some bad times that she found the strength and direction to overcome. Above all else, the positive attitude she exuded throughout the performance, was enormously life-affirming. This was especially clear when she remarked, in doing “Lucky to be Me”, how happy she was to be “walking, talking, singing”.

Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 6 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.