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Jazz Vocalist Sheila Jordan Honored In Concert

At the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., long-stemmed roses are wrapped in a big red ribbon on the stage, and words like "innovative and passionate" are used to honor vocalist Sheila Jordan with the 2008 Mary Lou Williams Award for a Lifetime of Service to Jazz.

Accepting her honor, Jordan thanks Kennedy Center artistic advisor Dr. Billy Taylor — "always in my corner then and now" — as well as the late George Russell, who "put me on record for the first time," singing "You Are My Sunshine," and "all the young singers throughout the years, the instrumentalists, my beautiful daughter, and most of all, I want to thank the Bird, Charlie Parker, a great friend and inspiration. He was like my big brother, nothing romantic," she says, answering an unspoken question.

Then Jordan improvises, saying in song that she's nervous, and that every time she comes to Washington, D.C., she thinks of her dear friend: fellow singer and lifelong Washingtonian, the late Shirley Horn.

Wherever she goes, it seems that former students are in the audience. Over the years, she's taught at U Mass in Amherst, City College in New York, and Graz, Austria. Her latest CD came out for her 80th birthday. It's Winter Sunshine: Live at Upstairs, recorded at a club in Montreal.

One thing Jordan does not do is listen over and over to her recordings: "Hear it once, let it go!" she says.

Sophie Milman was born in Russia. When she was 7, her family emigrated to Israel, and at 16, she moved to Canada. With a passion for jazz, Milman already has a full career on her plate in her 20s. Her album, Make Someone Happy, won a Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. Here, she takes her turn at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, at the Kennedy Center.

To hear Anat Cohen's concert from 2007's Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, click here.


Recordings by Greg Hartman of Big Mo Recording with assistance from Mark Barrie. Thanks to jazz program manager Kevin Struthers and Jean Thill.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Becca Pulliam