Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Jordan, Stanley

Stanley Jordan is best known for inventing a pianistic, two-handed touch technique on the guitar. This enabled him to play bass lines, melody, and harmony simultaneously, which set him in a class by himself on the instrument. He applied this technique first to jazz and then to a wide range of musical styles.

Stanley Jordan was born on July 21st, 1959 in Chicago, Illinois. Jordan’s first instrument was the piano, which he started playing at the age of six, when his family moved to California. He also received a guitar around this time, but didn’t really start to play the instrument until the age of ten.

“I got into pop and blues; Jimi Hendrix, the Temptations, the Beatles before I went all out with the counterpoint idea," Jordan recalled. "I was about 10, and the guitar seemed to be the most exciting instrument. I would have stayed with the piano much more seriously if not for the fact that my parents split up and neither one of them had space for an instrument that large.”

His first major musical influence was Jimi Hendrix, and he eventually found his way into jazz, thorug the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and George Benson. While still in high school, Jordan began to fully develop his two-handed technique, for which he altered the conventional tuning of a guitar from E-A-D-G-B-E to E-A-D-G-C-F, which opened up a new range of harmonic and melodic combinations on the instrument. In 1976, at the age of seventeen, Jordan shared first prize for outstanding soloist at the Reno Jazz Festival.

That next year, Jordan enrolled at Princeton University, where he studied music theory and composition and cemented his status as a rising star in music with performances with trumpet great Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist-trumpeter Benny Carter.

In 1982, a year after graduating from Princeton, Jordan recorded an album featuring his playing, solo and unaccompanied. Never commercially released, this album however helped him gain recognition as an artist.

In 1984, he moved to New York to gain a foothold in the music business. “In May of 1984, I moved there (New York City) and that's when I played on the streets," he recalled in an interview. "I used to set up at the corner of 7th Avenue and 48th Street, where all of the music stores are. Occasionally, I'd get hassled. Once I got doused with water because someone in the building above didn't want me down there. I also had a lot of hassles with the police.”

Jordan performed at the Kool Jazz Festival in 1984, and in 1985 he was signed to Blue Note Records. His debut album Magic Touch was produced by fusion guitarist Al Di Meola. The album featured drummers Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim, and Sammy Figueroa, and captured Jordan’s uncommon sound both solo and in a group setting. He performed a tantalizing and hypnotic rendition of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” utilizing his touch technique, while swinging hard with Erskine on Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader.” The album, combined with his 1985 performance at the Blue Note Records 40th anniversary concert, put him on the jazz map.

Throughout the end of the 1980s, Jordan continued in a jazz vein with the release of Standards Vol.1 in 1986 and Flying Home in 1988. Both albums build on his two-hand touch guitar technique. In 1991, he released Stolen Moments, which was recorded live at the Blue Note nightclub in Tokyo. The album includes Jordan’s reinterpretation of “Over the Rainbow."

Jordan left Blue Note in 1994 and signed with Arista Records. The label released Bolero, which featured his version Ravel’s “Bolero,” broken into different sections of Latin, rock and jazz. In the late 1990s through early 2000s, Jordan retired from the music scene and moved to the southwestern United States.

In 2003, Jordan returned to music with the album Relaxing Music for Difficult Situations. The album highlghted the guitarist's newfound sense of spirituality, and was followed by Ragas in 2004. In 2008, Jordan released State of Nature, which features the guitarist with bassist Charnett Moffitt and drummer David Haynes. They can be heard on the song “A Place in Space."

Jordan owns and operates a bookstore called Sedona Books and Music in Sedona, Arizona. He is enrolled at Arizona State University, where he is completing his master’s degree in music therapy. Jordan is the father of singer-songwriter Julia Jordan.

Select Discography

Magic Touch (1985)

Standards, Vol. 1 (1986)

Flying Home (1988)

Cornucopia (1990)

Stolen Moments (1991)

Bolero (1994)

The Best of Stanley Jordan (1995)

Stanley Jordan Live in New York (1998)

Relaxing Music for Difficult Situations, I (2003)

Ragas (2004)

Dreams of Peace (2004)

State of Nature (2008)

Contributor: Jared Pauley