Edward Kidd Jordan's multi-faceted legacy is among of the most influential and enduring in the history of improvised music. An integral part of the seminal musical tapestry of New Orleans, he is the patriarch of one of the city's most respected musical families and his parallel careers as a performer and educator span the past six decades. Now 73, he has worked most of his life outside the mainstream spotlight, tirelessly sustaining the jazz continuum through both his teaching and his cutting edge performances all around the globe with like-minded improvisers.
Born on May 5th, 1935 in Crowley, Louisiana, about two and a half hours Northwest of New Orleans, Jordan grew up in Cajun country listening to zydeco and blues music before hearing Charlie Parker, Lester Young and other jazz musicians while in high school. By his freshman year in college at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he studied music, he was playing professionally with local groups. After graduating in 1955, he relocated to New Orleans and began pursuing two of the trademark elements of his career: teaching music and working in pit bands and pick-up groups with the wide variety of prominent musicians passing through the city. That year he also became the brother-in-law of life-long musical partner, and fellow New Orleans jazz legend, Alvin Batiste.
After teaching music in high schools, and eventually college, during the day, he spent his nights performing with groups ranging from the casts of traveling Broadway shows to the major jazz, soul, blues and Motown artists of the time. The list includes Tony Bennett, Big Maybelle, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Billy Eckstine, Guitar Slim, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Earl King, Gladys Knight, Esther Phillips, The Four Tops, The O'Jays, The Temptations, Big Joe Turner, Nancy Wilson and Stevie Wonder among others. Living and working in New Orleans, he also performed and recorded with the city's most recognizable local talent, including Johnny Adams, the Neville Brothers (in an early band called The Hawkettes) and Professor Longhair. He would later perform as a featured soloist with the New Orleans Philharmonic.
Although he is closely associated with the native music scene of New Orleans, where he lived for more than 50 years before being displaced from his home by Hurricane Katrina, Jordan has also taught and performed all around the world. His penchant for free improvisation, and travels to the jazz meccas of New York and Chicago, where he earned his Master's at Milliken University and did other post-graduate study at Northwestern University, led to his best-known work in the jazz avant-garde with the likes of Muhal Richard Abrams, Ed Blackwell, Hamiet Bluiett, Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, David Murray, Sunny Murray, Sun Ra and Archie Shepp. Chicago-based musicians, and founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Fred Anderson and Alvin Fielder, are two of his most familiar musical partners, as is Chicago native, Joel Futterman.
Before retiring in the summer of 2007, Jordan was a professional teacher for more than 50 years. His former students include such high-profile names as Terence Blanchard, Branford and Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton, and his teaching work was instrumental in the development of such noted ensembles as the World Saxophone Quartet and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He also worked extensively with children in the New Orleans public schools, as well as in countries such as Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone, where he was involved with educational programs.
The culmination of his teaching career came in 1990, when he was named the founding director of the Heritage School of Music at Southern University's New Orleans campus (SUNO), where he oversaw the jazz studies program and jazz ensembles. The school was created by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the organization behind the world famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, at which Jordan has performed annually since 1975. He also served as Artistic Director of the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp for more than a decade starting in 1995. His work as an educator was documented by the CBS News program, 60 Minutes, and in 2006 he was honored by the New Orleans music publication, Offbeat, with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for Music Education. He was also named a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government in 1985.
Though highly regarded by both aficionados and his fellow musicians, Jordan's work as a performer has gone largely undocumented over the years. His recordings as a leader/coleader, most of which have come since the mid-to-late 1990's, have been released by the AUM Fidelity, Boxholder, Drimala, Eremite, Flying Note and Thirsty Ear labels, earning best-of-the-year honors along the way. AllAboutJazz.com's Troy Collins called one of Jordan's latest, Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity, 2006) with William Parker and Hamid Drake, spiritually revelatory free jazz, hauntingly beautiful and emotionally resonant.
Jordan unrolls color variations on his tenor that make his one instrument come across like an orchestra, declared JazzReview.com's Lyn Horton. Other critics have called him a gutsy tenor saxophonist and musical patriarch from New Orleans (Nate Chinen, New York Times), among the most under-rated of musicians, a fountain of torrid energy and exalted invention (Stuart Broomer, Coda) and as overlooked by the general jazz audience as he has been revered by the fortunate players he's mentored over the decades (Derk Richardson, The Absolute Sound). Bagatellen's Derek Taylor adds, On the stage he's known for shedding any physical semblance of his seventy-odd years and threatening the structural integrity of his saxophone's ligature with volcanic upper register multiphonics that are among the most potent and precisely-deployed amongst his peers.
Nowadays, Jordan explained in a recent interview, everybody just wants to play the same stuff that everybody else is playing. Same solos, same licks, and I can see that, because everybody wants to be accepted, but I don't care about that. The minute someone wants to pat me on the back about something is the minute I'm ready to leave. You've got to know yourself and what you're capable of doing and how you want to do it. I guess I've always been hardheaded, because around New Orleans people been telling me I'm the last free man for the last twenty years. It's not a popular road. You stand a lot of abuse to play this music. But you got to stick to what you want to do.