Sheila Jordan: Comes Love Lost Session 1960

“For reasons that my fate knows best” sings Sheila Jordon as the opening seven words on Comes Love. For reasons known only to the Fates, it took sixty-one years after the recording for those words to be heard. To anyone who knows the distinct articulations of the great vocalists of the past sixty-one years, the voice of Shelia Jordon then and now is unmistakable. Comes Love is her very first recording, her voice as vibrant and improvisory as her contemporary live performances in the time of COVID-19, at age 92 in duet with bassist Cameron Brown. 

That opening composition is “I’m the Girl”, a rarity in the first person. It tells the sad tale of a woman who patiently waits for the boy to drop the one he really loves. She hopes to be the girl “he calls up at three,” a reference to the wee small hours of the morning, also known as hour of the wolf. Six decades make little difference to Jordan’s clairvoyant emotion, the quivering fragility of the heart, the way she quickens one phrase in a bar (“the one he really loves..”) which blends into the drawn-out subsequent phrase (“…is you for I am the girl”). She sang that way then and still does now.

No musician comes out of nowhere but on this recording Jordan sounds fully formed, an Athena sprung not from the head of Zeus, but the years of singing as a child, then working with and hanging out with the cream of the creative musicians in Detroit and New York. Her mastery of the jazz forms is already established, demonstrated by her handling of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” She does opens with frolicking scat as if she were an exuberant horn in an Ellington section, then executes a new variations of the lyric, “Swingin’ isn’t easy, Swingins’ hard to do.” Which she makes it sound easy to do.

A couple of years later came “You are My Sunshine” on George Russell’s Outer View, an astonishing lentissimo version of the song she had been singing since childhood as documented in her biography Jazz Child, A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (review by Misterioso). That recording was done one month before her Portrait of Sheila, long considered her first recording as leader until the discovery of Comes Love.

Music in the ears is a pathway to the heart and few do it better than Sheila Jordon, whether she was 31 years old or at 92. Does anybody these decades hear “A tinkling piano in the next apartment?” On “These Foolish Things” (composed 1935) Jordan’s delivery is so personalized that she makes you believe someone next door is actually caressing the black and white keys of a lost love. Her execution sounds so simple with the quavering and vulnerable tones, the phrases long and introspective. 

The Fates are indeed fickle, but Comes Love is no longer a lost session. Sheila Jordan, in spite of all the curveballs life has thrown at her, is with us still singing beautiful jazz. Now who are those wonderful musicians on drums, bass, and piano?


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