February 2009

Sheila Jordan Workshop
February 15, 2009 Art of Jazz Studio Toronto
Report by Tova G. Kardonne
“I’m not here to break anyone’s spirit, I promise.”

Sheila Jordan has been singing Jazz since the early fifties, and teaching since ‘75, and the lady knows about both. As promised, nobody got broken at her workshop at the Art of Jazz Studio in the Distillery District last Sunday February 15; bruised perhaps, but to good purpose.

The format of the workshop alternated between Jordan’s advice to singers in general, and critiques of performances by singer-participants. “If you have bad time, you better get some lessons from a drummer,” she declared right off the top. “Time is of the essence.” Similarly no-nonsense statements followed. On accompanists: “Don’t sing in a key you don’t like for fear of offending the instrumentalists;” On other singers: “Don’t feel obligated to give out copies of the arrangement that you worked so hard on.” On being an artist: “Don’t be ashamed to work another job to support the music.” On critiquing each other: “We love each other; we have to work together.” In a room where the levels ranged from enthused amateur to professional, with varying degrees of timidity and boldness mixed throughout, Sheila Jordan managed to meet each person on their level, and take them one step forward.

I noticed her gentleness. It stood out after the third time she advised a participant to “learn the original music,” a course of action she’d already advised before anyone had sung, and yet her patience never waned. I also noticed her bluntness. When one participant explained that she varied the melody because the standard jazz tune was so old, the audience would be bored to hear it sung as written, Ms. Jordan replied, “Now you’re boring ME when you say that.”

Holding a jazz singing workshop is always a balancing act. Singers are a wildly varied group, from the classical tech-heads to the blindly intuitive emoters, to the divas/divos of all kinds to the harmony fiends. Picking out levels of proficiency from amongst all the combinations of skills and priorities is a task in itself. So a jazz singing workshop is hard to lead. Hats off to the Art of Jazz Studio for hosting such an ambitious meeting of minds, hats off to the participants who put themselves forward for public scrutiny, and a giant round of applause to Sheila Jordan for bringing her knowledge, her experiences and her sensitivity to Toronto for our benefit.

Sheila Jordan
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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