Sheila Jordan

If Sheila Jordan made a deal with the devil, she seems to have gotten a good deal. At 82, the most fearless vocalist in jazz sounds like a woman half her age.

She overcame almost everything that life can offer: between wearisome rural poverty, violent cops who harassed her because she dated black men, toiling for decades for gigs in obscurity, and her own alcohol-driven demons.

None of this discouraged her. Today she is virtually the only survivor of the bebop era, and at every concert she sings praises for her late friend Charlie Parker. In many ways Jordan has sought and desired greatness.

Born Sheila Jeanette Dawson to a teenage girl mother and raised in coal country Pennsylvania, she found a welcoming family in the Detroit bebop scene in the mid-1940s.

Sheila Jordan being a young white woman who frequented black jazz clubs, the aspiring singer endured the anguish of Motor City cops and urged by Parker left for New York City in 1951.

“Those cops would not have stopped me from answering calls, “Jordan says from her home in Middleburgh, NY. “I knew I was right and they were wrong.

I thought once I got to New York it would be different, but it was difficult there too. There were a lot of obstacles along the way, but I knew it would be okay. This music saved my life in many ways and still continues to save my life.”

Before universities deigned to teach jazz, he found rigorous instruction in harmony and music theory by studying with bassist/composer Charles Mingus and pianist Lennie Tristano, a guru for many of the most adventurous improvisers of the era.