That's life! 71 year old jazz singer Elli Fordyce plays Cleveland
What do Grandma Moses, Nancy Pelosi and Elli Fordyce have in common? And who is Elli Fordyce?
All three women achieved career success later in life. Grandma Moses began painting at 67. Speaker of the House Pelosi entered politics at 47. And Elli Fordyce, who has been performing as a singer and actress in films and television for just over five decades, has just released her first CD, Something Still Cool, at 71.
Fordyce has taken a few breaks from her career. Her earliest exposure to jazz was when she cut class with her best buddy, drummer Bobby ("Darin") Cossotto. Soon she was singing with a local dance band and jazz trio. But, months after a triumphant debut before a thousand other freshmen at the University of Massachusetts, Elli chose marriage and a family over career. During this break she raised her family, which includes son and Cleveland Heights attorney, Tim Collins. Another break, not of her choosing, came with a devastating accident on a snowy highway en route to a gig in Illinois.
She stopped singing for 15 years, “not even ‘Happy Birthday,’ not even in the shower,” she recalls. It was years later, after realizing how much her yorkie pup, Dindi, loved her singing that Ellie found her voice again. And find it she did. The reviews are in for Something Still Cool, and they are hot.
Bob Gish of Jazz Improv says "Whatever the term [cool] means . . . you know it when you hear it. And Elli Fordyce is cool! . . . as implied in the title, once cool, always cool, vintage cool . . . Ms. Fordyce has the spirit and voice of one of the blessed, the spirit and stamina of eternal song." Brad Walseth, from the website www.jazzchicago.net says Fordyce's voice is "lovely with strong command, a natural rhythmic touch and just a touch of a rough edge . . . a true showcase for a singer whom one wishes would have never had to give up singing for so long."
Something cool is a running motif on the CD. The cover art is a black and white shot of a teenage Fordyce with windswept hair, standing somewhat awkwardly on a sand dune. “We moved from New York City my senior year of high school. I had no driver’s license and was seven miles from anything, after a lifetime of using public transportation.” When she got a hold of June Christy’s 1953 album, Something Cool, that summer, Fordyce credited it with saving her life. Even the font type on the CD borrows from Christy’s with the word “cool” inserted with a carrot. And, of course, the CD features the classic jazz standard "Something Cool".
Fordyce is currently working on editing her second CD and gearing up for a tour. She performs at Nighttown on Wednesday, August 20 at 7:00 p.m., joined by Cleveland musicians Ed Ridley, Jr. on piano, Marty Block on acoustic bass, and Roy King on drums.
Christine McBurney, like so many of us, used to live on Hampshire Road. She's the theatre arts deptartment chair at Shaker Heights High School, a performer, writer, and proud Heights High soccer mom.