By Andrew Poretz …

There are literally a handful of significant singers still performing into their 90s.  Tony Bennett retired this year at 95.  Marilyn Maye is still going strong at 94.  Sheila Jordan, a bebop legend, is also 94, and continued her November birthday celebration with two sets at Birdland Theater. 

The nonagenarian has especially strong ties to Birdland, having not only performed at the original club (which closed its doors in 1965), but through her long association with Charlie “Bird” Parker, for whom Birdland is named.  Ms. Jordan was accompanied by Grammy-winning piano virtuoso Alan Broadbent and bassist Cameron Brown.  This dynamic duo opened the set with a pair of instrumental jazz standards, “East of the Sun” and the Cole Porter “I Love You,” in front of a full house.

Ms. Jordan opened with an unusual choice for a bebop gal, Billie Preston’s “Song of Joy,” which her daughter convinced her to sing.  Her mid-song banter with Mr. Broadbent was quite playful.

A few songs in, the star announced that she had a cold.  She assured the audience, “It’s not Covid!  If I had Covid, I’d be gone.  I’d be off to better places.  Nah, there is no better place than Birdland!” (Her cold did seem to affect her singing somewhat.  Her set was on the short side, and I learned the next day that Ms. Jordan truncated the second set because she was not feeling well.  May this living legend get well soon!)

Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown

Sheila claimed that she became “afraid of the water” after an uncle tried to drown her when she was 8.  This felt like a non sequitur when she followed this by riffing lines about “Bird” with just the bass, until Mr. Broadbent came in for “How Deep Is the Ocean.”  (Ms. Jordan is especially well-known as a pioneer of the bass/voice duet, which she first did with Charles Mingus way back in 1954.)  Mr. Brown creates great rhythm with his bass, particularly in the absence of percussion.  Ms. Jordan’s scat solo showed a still-fearless singer willing to take chances.  She ended this piece with what seemed like an improvised, rhyming song about her uncle. 

Where humor informed the last piece, Ms. Jordan brought an incredible depth of emotional resonance to “Autumn In New York,” complete with the verse.  When she sang the lyric “Autumn in New York, is often mingled with pain,” that pain was palpable, triggering this reviewer’s seatmate to openly sob.  Ms. Jordan’s staggering mastery of emotional expression far exceeds any diminution of vocal quality.

She closed the show with a fun original song, “Workshop Blues.”  “I’m going to teach you a song,” she said, and led the audience in a call-and-response of nonsense scat lyrics that was reminiscent of Cab Calloway’s most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher.”  In a jazz room.  Owner Gianni Valenti asked for one more song.  She sang “For all We Know” (we may never meet again . . .) with as much emotional wallop as “Autumn in New York.”

Here’s hoping we will meet again, Sheila Jordan. For more information on Sheila Jordan, visit

The Sheila Jordan Trio took place on November 25 at Birdland, 315 West 44th Streets, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue (