By Barbara Gramegna (Shewolfoclock)
Sheila Jordan, leggenda vivente del jazz, ha elargito la sua saggezza umana e musicale durante un workshop organizzato dal CDM (Centro Didattico Musica Teatro Danza) di Rovereto (Tn) il 21 maggio scorso e ha coinvolto il pubblico, la sera successiva, in una sentita e generosa performance all’Hotel Laurin di Bolzano.
Incontrare un’artista che ha vissuto la scena be-bop assieme a Charlie Parker, che ha lottato sin da piccola per affermare la propria voglia di riscatto umano e musicale e che oggi, alla sua età, attraversa i continenti con agevolezza incontrando tutti con familiarità e affetto, godendo e facendo godere con e della sua musica, ha rappresentato per me, come donna, e come amante della musica, una sorta di incontro con una madre americana.
Ms. Jordan, first of all I am very happy to meet you and to have the chance to ask you something about women, men and music.
What meant for you being a woman in your musical career in the USA?
Being a woman in any career in the world is a big challenge.
We have to get past that label of being the cook, the child bearer, the housekeeper, etc.
In my case I had to work as my husband didn’t support me or my daughter, who was a baby at the time, so it was a day job for me and I found a place to sing a couple of nights a week to release my emotional build-up.
You admitted you had no formal musical training, that everything began with ‘opening your ears’, what do you think about the many music schools born everywhere in the last decades?
There were not jazz schools when I was growing up.
Only 78 records so the ears and being able to hear the music was very important.
I think some of that is missing today. It can become a little too academic at times with all the schooling. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for chance taking or making mistakes.
Making mistakes teaches you how to find the way out on your own thru’ listening and this is where the importance of ears comes in. I do however think that the schools help students a lot of the academic part of music. I would have loved to been able to go to a school for jazz when I was a kid. It’s especially important and helpful in composing.
Your an enthusiastic human being and love working and playing with young people.
We often speak about women’s disadvantages of getting old.
Which are on the other side the advantages?
I love working with young musicians and always enjoy being part of their group.
Personally, I feel ageless when it comes to this music.
I know more now and that is a benefit of being older. I get much more respect being older and that is nice. People take you seriously if they find out you’ve been doing this music for 70 some years. I have no hang-up with getting old. I am old and it’s okay. The older I get, the wiser I get.
You live in NY but travel very often through Europe.
What is the main difference between American and European way of performing jazz/ blues?
Jazz is Jazz wherever you perform it. The jazz audiences are very respectful and responsive all over the world. I use to think Europe was more accepting of the music but I find that has changed. True jazz lovers in the U.S. are just as enthusiastic now as they are in Europe. Of course the Europeans have a very special way of responding sometimes that is a bit different from the U.S. Maybe the Europeans are a bit more verbal. Still it is about the same.
Ms. Sheila I loved so much your singing ‘ I got my be-bop’ instead of ‘I got my man’ in the famous song ‘I got rhythm’.
Do you think that personalizing something of a lyric could let us singing it with more feeling?
No I don’t think it has anything to do with feeling. At least not for me. Changing the word to Bebop as opposed to My Man means more to me. I am not involved with a man at present and music was always ahead of any love relationship I had. I just feel it fits better in the tune and I don’t like singing song about My Man. I never really had a good one in my life except maybe Frank Foster. All the others were losers and very jealous of my music. So it was them or the music and after a lot of verbal and physical abuse from most of these men, I chose the music. I wasn’t about to give up something that was so important to me since my childhood. Music saved my life.
Your inspiring artist for the whole life was and is Charlie Parker, a man and a saxophonist, why not a woman and a singer?
‚Bird’* was and still is the most important person in my musical life. I didn’t know what kind of music I wanted to sing until I heard him. He changed my whole life by hearing his music as a young person all those many years ago. It had nothing to do with man or woman, it had to do with love and passion. ‘Bird’ gave me that in everything he played. I admire and love singers too, but ‘Bird’ was my first introduction to this wonderful music so he will always be number 1 in my life and in my music which is really my life.
I allow me to ask you something maybe not so comfortable and I understand if you don’ t like to answer. What role played men in your life?
Men who were jazz musicians played a great role in my life because they were doing the kind of music I felt was my calling and since not many women were recording this music at the time, except for the great Mary Lou Williams, it was the male musicians who became my inspiration. As far a personal relationships most of these as I stated above were very abusive both verbally and physically because most of the men I was involved with were very very jealous of the music and tried to take me away from it. It was all jealousy on their part. That’s why I am alone today and you know what? I love it that way. It’s me and the music and always will be.
Sheila , I thank you so much for every word you said and I hope you will keep on teaching that passion has not to do with other topics and that everybody that can hear can also sing!
*’Bird’ era il soprannome dato a Charlie Parker, sassofonista e compositore jazz statunitense.
Forniamo qui una sintesi dell’intervista in italiano:
Per Sheila Jordan la musica ha rappresentato tutto e non si è mai posta il problema di avere come modello un musicista uomo, ma solo se questo fosse veicolo di comprensione per cosa risiedesse in lei. Charlie Parker è stato questo veicolo, quindi per lei ha rappresentato e rappresenta musicalmente tutto.
Inoltre il tipo di musica che le interessava non é quasi mai stato registrato da donne, eccetto da Mary Lou Williams.
Essere donna ha sempre rappresentato una sfida nel mondo, non solo in ambito musicale, ma per ogni tipo di carriera. L’etichetta di donna di casa, di accuditrice in genere ci è sempre stata appiccicata.
Gli uomini con in quali Sheila ha avuto a che fare, spesso, sono stati gelosi di lei, in tutti i sensi, anche della sua musica e quindi ora, che non vive in una relazione, ma che ha la sua musica, si sente veramente sé stessa.
Sheila vede nel trascorrere del tempo un plusvalore di saggezza e di considerazione da parte degli altri, quindi un vantaggio. Fare musica con persone più giovani é coinvolgente e, comunque, fare musica é qualcosa che va oltre all’età.
Sheila è per così dire autodidatta e certo vede nel proliferare delle scuole di musica un enorme vantaggio per giovani appassionati, ma anche un ostacolo a convivere con gli errori e fare degli errori, tappe di un percorso evolutivo. La sua scuola erano i 78 giri e il loro ascolto ha funto da insegnamento. La preparazione formale fornisce però sicuramente un grande vantaggio soprattutto per quanto riguarda la composizione.
Attualmente Sheila Jordan non vede rilevanti differenze fra Usa ed Europa nella esecuzione e nella fruizione del jazz, il pubblico é molto ricettivo e rispettoso in entrambi i continenti.
Una caratteristica di Sheila è anche l’improvvisazione sui versi delle canzoni e , quindi, una personalizzazione dei testi, ad esempio nella famosa canzone ‘I got rhythm’, di George Gershwin, Sheila canta ‘I got be-bop’ al posto di ‘I got my man’, ed in effetti, se una donna della sua età ha ancora il be-bop, ‘who could ask for anything more?’
Lunga vita a Sheila Jordan!