Internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan will be honored at the 33rd Annual Bistro Awards on Monday, March 12, with an award for her Outstanding Contributions to the Art of Jazz. One of her main influences, legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker, dubbed her “the singer with the million dollar ears.”
The BISTRO AWARD was established by Bob Harrington in 1985 in his “Bistro Bits” column in the trade weekly Back Stage, then under the editorship of Sherry Eaker. For the first few years, the awards were merely listed in Harrington’s column as notable performances he had seen during the calendar year. The first formal presentation of the awards was held in 1990 at Eighty Eight’s, a popular cabaret venue in the West Village. From there, the show moved on to The Ballroom in Chelsea, and then relocated to the Supper Club in the Broadway District, where it remained for many years. This year marks the tenth year at Gotham Comedy Club.
Jordan began singing as a child, and by her early teens she was working semi-professionally in Detroit clubs. She was a member of the vocal trio Skeeter, Mitch, and Jean (she was Jean), which did vocal versions of Parker’s solos, à la Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. After moving to New York in the early ’50s, she married Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan, and studied with Lennie Tristano.
She began her recording career in the early ’60s, and a few years later her work expanded to include jazz liturgies sung in churches and extensive club appearances. By the late ‘70s, audiences had begun to embrace her uncompromising style, and her popularity grew, leading to more recordings with a variety of renowned jazz instrumentalists. Her unique vocal trademarks, including her ability to improvise lyrics and unexpected sweeping changes of pitch, were on full display. Her longtime preference for bass and voice led to her collaboration with bassist Cameron Brown, with whom she has been performing internationally for over 20 years.
As an educator, she was an Artist-in-Residence at the City University of New York, where she taught from 1978 to 2005. She also taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Vermont Jazz Center, and she continues to lead workshops.
Other jazz musicians that have been honored with the Bistro award have included Jon Hendricks, Janis Siegel, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth and Eartha Kitt to name just a few.
Last modified: July 15, 2018