In her sparkly top, black nail polish and Prince Valiant hairdo, Sheila Jordan certainly was styling Wednesday at the Dunsmore Room at Crooners in Fridley.
At 89, she showed more personality and musicality than most jazz vocalists half her age. She cracked jokes between songs and during songs, some of them even sung. Because that’s Jordan’s style – wing it. She loves to improvise.
This return engagement at Crooners was special because, instead of playing with some local players, as she did last time, she was accompanied only by her longtime upright bassist Cameron Brown. That’s long been her specialty – voice and bass. In fact, the finale in her generous 100-minute performance was “I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Bass,” a slightly rewritten standard that reflected her style and her humor.
Brown, 72, and Jordan as a musical duo were as in sync as George Burns and Gracie Allen doing their comedy. The musicians played off each other, him knowing how to pluck or bow the right passages to her favorite songs or often improvised lyrics. Their communication was sometimes a look of the eye or sometimes simply intuitive.
They offered what they dubbed “The Dance Medley,” a collection of songs that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers stepped to that was a delightful dance between the two musicians.
Jordan ad libbed songs that told her life story and ones that celebrated her relationships with various jazz stars, particularly saxophone legend Charlie “Bird” Parker. Particularly funny was a sung tale about a review that critic Leonard Feather of the Los Angeles Times gave her back in the day.
She also shared anecdotes like the time jazz giant Charles Mingus suggested that she work with more musicians like a pianist and a drummer to which she responded: “Charlie, does anybody tell you how to play bass?” That called for a rimshot but, alas, there was no drummer.
Jordan’s personality was more playful than mean. Her singing more passionate than perfect. She has a great facility with scat, showing the ability to switch instruments, so to speak, during the same passages.
When she played it straight ahead, as she did on Kenny Dorham’s “Fair Weather” and George Russell’s “Baltimore Oriole,” Jordan sang with her eyes closed, delivering the words with knowledgeable phrasing and timeless style.