She's shading eighty. He's crowding sixty-three. She's a legendary jazz singer who made her bones way back in the bebop 1950s. He's a self-effacing virtuostic marvel on the acoustic bass packing an impressive professional background. Together last night, this voice and bass duo (actually a trio: Brown and the bass acted as separate foil characters) treated a very large and adoring audience to a sublime set of musical offerings, effortlessly realized by these bona fide human treasures.
"I love Cameron (Brown) as a musician, " she's quoted as saying, "because he has a wonderful time feeling. When I sing with him, I always know where the pulse is. He doesn't let ego or attitude interfere with what we're doing." What in turn Brown admires in Jordan is the singer's "ability to reach out to the audience, to make them laugh and to move them without compromising the quality of the music". It showed. Well. The on-stage relationship of this dynamic duo seemed to me to fall into somewhat the same company of film's hilariously wonderful screwball romantic comedies starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Looking spruce in a blue suit, tie, Oxford cloth blue shirt and brown sandals, Brown (a Kenny Rogers lookalike BEFORE plastic surgery) worked his magic on a strangely reconfigured acoustic bass. It appeared as if someone had amputated the lower third off the instrument, replacing the missing section with a long metal support peg. "Airports don't like taking basses, " Jordan explained to the audience. "They're always giving musicians a hard time. " She paused. Looked clinically over the instrument. "Still, " in a wickedly mischievous aside that cracked up the crowd, " still it looks like it could blow up."
Jordan herself looked mah-vellous, my dears. Short. Flashing intelligent eyes. High Hollywood cheekbones. Elegant nose. Dark brown hair cut in a Louise Brooks' bob.A rust red flower affixed to the right side of her head. A sheer black diaphonous overblouse imprinted on the hem and sleeves with flowers and a hagiographic portrait of her as a young woman sporting the identical rust flower in her bobbed hair was worn over a black sleeveless, wide-legged pants suit. Cherry-red shoes completed the ensemble.
Jordan's set was sophistication without pretense. The cathedral's barrel vaulting richly enhanced her surprisingly rich but small, intimate voice. In one grouping of songs, the duo deliciously extemporized a Tribute to Freddy - that being Fred Astaire. Jordan and Brown brought to silky bubbly life wintergreens Astaire popularized - such as I Won't Dance, Let's Face the Music and Dance, and The Continental. Brown cleverly reacted to singular moments in songs; expressing in tempo, reluctance (I Won't Dance)to flutter-fingered giddiness, racing up and down the bass's neck, responding to "I'll never know what made it sooo exciting" from I Could Have Danced All Night. His antics creased broad smiles on faces in the crowd. Jordan too crackled with spontaneous wit. Singing "Heaven, I'm in Heaven" she comically sized up her surroundings and laconically gazed upward. It became obvious throughout the set that her song choices were being strung like pearls on a cord to, in whole, become a wry exposition on the course of love. These thematic clusters drew long rounds of applause upon each completion. Introducing Dat Dere - music by BobbyTimmons and lyrics by Oscar Brown Junior, she flubbed who was composer and who was the lyricist. Brown gently brought the mix-up to her attention. "Ohh," she said, after making the correction, " I had a "senior moment". Then I'm allowed. I'm 79 and three-quarters!" Brown smiled. Leaned into a mic and said, "This is the sharpest woman I know." To which she quickly joked, "Hey, don't worry. You're gonna get paid." Brown doubled up laughing. And convulsed the audience.
We musically toured her long and eventful musical life through voicings of works by people she knew, worked with or admired: Ellington, Mingus, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, Miles Davis - including some masterful scat singing of her god, Charlie Parker's bebop classic, Scrapple from the Apple.
Too many people, including performers, learn nothing throughout their lives and careers. Not so in the case of Sheila Jordan. Her fine set reflected decades long refining.The stripped back to essentials vocal control. The exquisite phrasing. The touch of bittersweet Billie Holiday rasp in the heartbreak songs. The perfectly placed coquettish uptick at the end of phrases in upbeat numbers. The sensual song dynamics.The clockwork timing with the accompanist. The quick wit asides. The minimalistic telling gesture skill: a slight rise of an eyebrow, nod of the head, a languid wave of a hand. The instant inclusive rapport with the audience. Yup. Jordan learned a lot in her five decades as a uncompromising and determined jazz singer. As evidenced last night, Jordan's chops are still, after all these years, in fine fettle. No kidding. This human treasure's still got hip lips.
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