By Kim Lyle
For this season’s third installment of the Art Council’s Jazz Listening Room Series at the Hartley/Vey Theatre, Stephanie Jordan performed for a crowd that sold out weeks in advance. Her voice – sultry, dynamic and powerful – stretched to the furthest edges of the intimate venue to embrace the audience. Each note was packed with a wisdom and sophistication rare in current times, seeping into the ears and gradually the hearts of all who were lucky enough to listen.
The New Orleans born and bred singer comes from a family of musicians whose roots run deep in the jazz world. It comes as no surprise Jordan has been able to foster such a loyal fan following. With previous performances at the prestigious Kennedy Center and a memorable appearance at the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Concert, Baton Rouge was grateful to have her. Regardless of her impressive resume, she remained humble in the presence of such accolades.
“I’m just one of those singers in the dark,” she said near the beginning of the concert.
However, it is clear that not just any singer in the dark could execute such acrobatic flights of song. One of the first songs of the night was Jordan’s interpretation of a classic, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” As a nod to her talented family she noted, “my mother placed it in my repertoire, it was her favorite.” A lyrically straightforward song was breathed to life with the raw emotion her voice infused into each syllable.
Throughout the set, Jordan and the talented jazz quartet consistently delivered moments of pure magic, not just art. It was clear that everybody onstage was in love with what they do.
“I had as much fun during the mic check as I’m having right now,” said Jordan.
That pure joy was contagious as the floor echoed with the sounds of a giddy audience tapping in time the band’s beat. A crowd favorite, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was received with one of many standing ovations. Performed with a fresh twist, Jordan made sure to pay tribute to the song’s origins.
“I learned this song from listening to Dinah Washington as a kid. I only listened to the great singers and Dinah was great,” Jordan said.
For the second half of the performance, Jordan floated onto the stage donning a classy red dress in honor of Valentine’s Day. She finished the night with stunning renditions of “Alfie” and her title song, “Yesterday When I Was Young”. At one point, an admiring fan presented her with red roses and a framed painting. Having first heard her music over a year ago, he expressed his long-standing admiration for her grace and beauty, proving the influence of Jordan’s art to be far reaching.
Equally captivating were Jordan’s insightful interludes, offering an emotionally articulate window into her everyday life and inspirations. In her last words of the night, she revealed a more vulnerable side, offering thoughts that have crossed the mind of any dedicated artist no matter the medium.
“Jazz is a strange music, you never really know if this music is still what people need,” said Jordan. “You watch the Grammy’s and it’s Lady Gaga singing jazz. Now, I believe artists have the freedom to sing whatever they choose. But, I don’t pretend to sing jazz. I just really love it. Even so, I still sometimes wonder if it’s valid? Does it mean anything?”
A warm applause from the crowd reassured the devoted artist that jazz music does indeed still have a place in this world, one that is desperately needed.
If you were not able to listen to Jordan this time around, you can watch her free performance on Feb. 26th at the Baton Rouge Community College where she will be supported by the sounds of a big band. The next installment of the Jazz Listening Room Series will be on May 14 at the Hartley/Vey Theater, with a performance by saxophonist Brad Walker.