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At 95, jazz icon Sheila Jordan still eats, drinks and breathes the music

Jazz singer Sheila Jordan, then 84, performs at the 21st Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in New York City's Tompkins Square Park on August 25, 2013.
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Getty Images
Jazz singer Sheila Jordan, then 84, performs at the 21st Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in New York City's Tompkins Square Park on August 25, 2013.

Vocalist Sheila Jordan is the definition of a living jazz legend. She mingled and performed with Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus, Lennie Tristano and Max Roach, to name a few. She was one of the first singers to appear on Blue Note Records. And her imagination brought the unusual format of voice and bass to the forefront, making it a thing.

Her journey in jazz began when she was only 14 years old. She heard Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time" on the jukebox while growing up in Detroit and never looked back. Bird became a lifelong obsession. At 95 years old, she wants to make sure the Bird lives on, along with jazz itself.

"Support the music until it can support you," she says. "And you know what? It might never support you, but if you love it, you'll keep doing it because you won't want to give it up."

Certainly, Jordan has experienced her fair share of ups and downs during her life and storied career. As a child, she grew up in poverty, and while she pursued her dreams in music, needed to have hustles on the side. But she kept at it. "I had to sing. I just had to do it," she tells host Christian McBride. The music always kept her going.

Listen to their conversation on this episode of Jazz Night in America.

Set List:

  • "Falling in Love with Love" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart), from the album Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note Records)
  • "Let's Face the Music and Dance" (Irving Berlin), from the album Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note Records)
  • "Confirmation" (Charlie Parker, Skeeter Spight, Leroy Mitchell), from the album Better Than Anything (Live) (There Records)
  • "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" (Duke Ellington), from the album Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (Capri Records)
  • "You Are My Sunshine" (Jimmie Davis, Charles Mitchell), from George Russell's album The Outer View (Riverside Records)
  • "Dat Dere" (Bobby Timmons), from the album Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note Records)
  • "Better Than Anything" (Bill Loughborough, David "Buck" Wheat), with Arild Andersen, from the album Sheila (SteepleChase Records)
  • "Lazy Afternoon" (Jerome Moross, John La Touche), with Harvie S, from the album Yesterdays (HighNote Records)
  • "Reel Time" (Chris Lee), from the album Jazz Child (HighNote Records)
  • "Sheila's Blues" (Sheila Jordan) from the album Detroit Jazz City (Blue Note Records)


Sarah Geledi, writer and producer; Christian McBride, host; Ron Scalzo, episode mix; Suraya Mohamed, project manager; Keith Jenkins, vice president of visuals and strategy at NPR Music. Gabrielle Armand and Anya Grundmann, executive producers.

Copyright 2023 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Sarah Geledi
Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.

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