Home Masthead A Love Letter to Sheila Jordan

A Love Letter to Sheila Jordan


Sheila-Jordan-7-JDGBy the 80’s as I said, I was a working copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather (as it was then called) and flushed with funds, I was always scouring around for jazz albums. One day at the HMV store at Charing Cross in London, I found Home an album by Steve Swallow where he’d set to music the poems of Robert Creeley. Have I ever told you that I had two books of poems already published by then? Well, I was reading mainly British poetry then as I was thinking of going back to school to do my masters’. But I could not resist buying an album with your name on it. I am glad I did. The emotional intimacy of the songs and their urgency are so aptly suited to the agility and immediacy of your voice and manner these one-to-a-part performances bring a deeply compelling drama to the poetry of Creeley. It was a nice pairing up of you and Steve Swallow again twenty years after A Portrait of Sheila. Somehow, it seemed to work in a different way now…

Sheila-Jordan-Yesterdays-JDGOh and I forgot to mention that I also had – or at least my father had purchased a copy of The Crossing on one of his trips to Germany. He liked vinyls, so this one was a vinyl too. I love vinyls… the whole analogue experience that brought your music so much closer to me. This album was an intimate one too. Although Kenny Barron and Ben Riley and Tom Harrell are on that album too, I was drawn to it by your voice and bass thing there. Harvie S creates a naturalness and emotional honesty that comes from being tightly knit and in perfect balance. The music is alert, lightly coloured and again, the agility with which you leap from line to line left me breathless. How do you do it Sheila? Don’t tell me, I know… something in you stirs ever so lightly like an ethereal being and then you and Harvie create some joint story-telling that reminds me of something Homeric! I mean “Sheila’s Blues” and “Little Willie Leaps” are masterpieces of epic proportions. Go figure.

I also have a copy of the 1977 recording you made with Arild Andersen. Now he’s also a bassist whom I so admire. Such beautiful intonation and he does play with lighter colours than many bassists do. Perhaps coming from a country where sunlight is not eternal has something to do with it. Whatever it is his playing is uniquely suited to what you do. The music here is also joyous and each song is a sure-footed gem. The fragility of your version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” sounds as desolate as the lyric… like a stab to the heart. Do you think that Billy Strayhorn suffered inside, Sheila? Did you know him? One thing I may not have told you before is that I feel that I know people intimately when I listen to you sing. I mean the composers… For instance on The Crossing on “Suite for Lady and Prez” I felt that they were in the room with me. Here too, on this record I mean, I could feel that Billy Strayhorn was walking out the door and into the street where I lived. Strange… And beautiful.

Sheila-Jordan-Cam-Brown-JDGAnd you, Sheila… At some point I began to think that you had a special thing for bassists. I don’t know that I should be so bold as to suggest that, but I mean look at the relationship you seem to enjoy with Harvie S, for instance. The fact that you can often recognise your soloists’ voice within this existential mix adds to this impression of reality. Besides I’m also connecting the dots here – actually I’m doing that from The Crossing to Yesterdays, another sumptuous album with Harvie… I have been listening to this album as much for the uplifting freshness and immediacy of a ‘live’ recording as I am to try to get into the hidden grooves of your ‘thing’ for bass players – Harvie S in particular. I also listen to this album, for this version of “Yesterdays”. I remember a dramatically different version from the 60’s – 1960, to be precise – that you did with Ronnie Ball on piano, Al Shankman on guitar and Peter Ind on bass. What a beauty this version also is. This record with Harvie S though is brimful of carefree moments and the last song on it – that “Fred Astaire Medley” is the cherry on the cake! You sound positively overjoyed here, Sheila. It’s not hard to understand why… But I also enjoy the manner in which you position the music in the listener’s – my – imagination. Priceless…

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.


  1. I honor your Experiences and honor the Creators for the dispensing of this Validation opon us mere mortals. I was lucky enough to experience this Docent of the valued art. and her generosity of her sharing of her life and the music and musicians around it. Praises for her life and longevity.


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