“It’s quite something to stand up and convey a song. It looks easy…,” mused a member of the audience at the busy Bull’s Head on Wednesday night. “…but it’s difficult to convey overly emotive songs, and it’s difficult to convey jokey songs,” he concluded, having taken part in Sheila Jordan ’s vocal workshop that preceded this gig in celebration of her 81st birthday. On a stage decorated with pink and purple balloons and large bouquets, Sheila continued the masterclass, conveying all of these emotions -and more- with ease, but never complacency.
Halfway through the first set, she followed the deeply moving Jimmy Webb composition, The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress, (particularly poignant in its dedication to long-term musical collaborator and friend, Jeff Clyne , who had sadly passed away on Monday) with the witty parent/child characterisation of Bobby Timmons’ and Oscar Brown Jr’s Dat Dere sung to her own daughter.
These two songs and these two moments represent everything that is typical about a Sheila Jordan performance: you will laugh, you will cry, you will understand that this is an artist in which life and music constantly intertwine and are celebrated whatever the occasion.
Tonight, she described her childhood and early musical influences by way of a humorous blues; admired the artistry of Don Cherry in her lyrics to his song Art Deco; reminded us of her jazz lineage by quoting Sonny Rollins (The Touch of Your Lips), honouring Ella Fitzgerald (Lady Be Good), making joyous sense of nonsense (Ooh Pa Pi Da) and evoking friend, Charlie Parker, in her ever nimble and textural scat, inate and boundless musicality and indefatigable devotion to her calling.
It had clearly been a long day and recent ill health meant that she sat down when she needed to but in a way that heightened her relaxed authority over her sensitive band, Brian Kellock (piano), Kenny Ellis (bass) and Stuart Ritchie (drums). Theirs was a co-operative venture- she clearly appreciative of their musicianship and they in turn never overshadowing hers even when storming through a trio version of Hi Fly or brilliantly, if at first tentatively, scatting to order.
Towards the end of the night her voice started to crack slightly but her smile, energy and commitment to her audience never faded and showing her mettle she dug deeper on the closing blues. She told us “No matter who disappoints you in this music or life, just do it.” It seemed everyone in the audience from the inspired singers to the old friends to the novice jazz club goers was lifted by that.
At the end of a beautiful rendition of Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring she vamped: “Believe in Spring, believe in you, believe in me, believe in jazz”.
We do, Sheila, we do.
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Followthis link to Sheila Jordan’s website
Singer Georgia Mancio is appearing with the Frank Griffith nonet this Sunday November 22nd at Live on the Park.