Sheila Jordan as Radiant as Ever in Cambridge

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Yoko Miwa (left) accompanies Sheila Jordan at Thelonious Monkfish in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Dec. 2.

(Photo: Janice Tsai)

Sheila Jordan reigns undisputedly as mellow mistress of any jazz club she visits. She strolled into Thelonious Monkfish, pan-Asian nightspot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Dec. 2 and charmed her way into the lives of sushi-nibbling fans, making a heralded appearance with Yoko Miwa’s Trio.

Emerging with russet bangs over a knowing smile and wearing a floral wrap over a black shift, Jordan displayed effortless style. From the git-go, she reveled in every tune. A snap! from the mic played into her opening gambit: “What was that?” she grimaced, blue eyes a-pop. “That’s not how I scat!” Then scat she did, spinning commentary on local geography during “How Deep Is The Ocean,” and skirting tremolo wobble on “If I Had You.”

She delighted us with ballad rarities, meticulously enunciating Bob Dorough’s “Baltimore Oh-oh-oh-oriole” and each word of Ray Noble’s “The Touch Of Your Lips.” She treated us to a never-heard verse, cueing the trio to a medium bounce and glissing each word of the title (she also slipped in quotes from nursery rhymes and Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas”).

The Great American Songbook is Jordan’s oyster and she had us all shucking along. The trio’s kick-ass break-tune, Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” found Barrett bowing with pinpoint fury, Miwa hammering Parlan-style, and Scott Goulding barreling his toms.

Nearing 90, Jordan is still jazz’s tremulous butterfly. She never negates pleasure in spontaneously cherry-picking anecdotes from her autobiography to regale the crowd. She weaved hard-wired still-wriggly threads of memory from her Detroit youth, creating a tapestry of Charlie Parker lore: “The Bird” morphed into bop chestnut “Quasimodo,” then its Tin Pan Alley ancestor “Embraceable You.”

She also celebrated her Native American heritage, cooing a cool poetic “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” over Barrett’s graceful thrumming.

Sheila’s latest avatar, the teacher/philosopher, emerged as she taught us to scat a minor 12-bar blues [boo-DAY-doo-AH], in call and response, trading increasingly complex fours and Christmas carol quotes. “Now, everybody improvise!” she shouted into the giddy chaos. Among the enthusiastic participants in the ecstatic audience were Berklee singer/educators Maggi Scott, Kris Adams, Kaoruko Pilkington and Lisa Thorson.

Jordan delivered a brief valedictory speech over scraped brushes in the stilled room: “Whatever your dream is, don’t leave it. Don’t give up!” She capped set one with “Look For The Silver Lining,” packing oodles of joyous experience into “sadness” and “strife.” She’ll be back, and we’ll be grateful. DB



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