In Kidd Jordan's family of musicians, it's practice, practice, practice
By Chelsea Brasted, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Sitting in the living room of Stephanie Jordan's beautifully decorated lakefront home, the Jordan siblings recalled growing up in a different New Orleans than the one they know now. That New Orleans, they all agreed, was one where homes almost always had a piano, much like the one they gathered around.
"You rarely met a big family that didn't have musicians," Kent Jordan said to the sounds of agreement from his siblings and father, renowned saxophone player Kidd Jordan.
Rarer still is a family like the Jordans of New Orleans, who can easily fill a home with the sounds of a saxophone, flute, violin, trumpet and piano. Each of these musicians calmly approaches their chosen instrument with the comfort of a professional who has spent untold hours honing their skill and an intensity they've witnessed for decades by hearing their father preach and practice.
"I'd be practicing if I wasn't here," Kidd grumbled amiably before praising his children who perform professionally. Sitting around him as he spoke were four of his seven offspring, including flutist Kent, jazz singer Stephanie, violinist Rachel and trumpet player Marlon. "They're doing it because they want to do it. They're not doing it for me. I'm glad they're good musicians, but they could have been anything, not because I'm a musician. Maybe that was the nail in the coffin."
Between the constant practicing Kidd mandates for himself, he and his wife, Edvidge Chatters Jordan, who plays piano, ensured their children were surrounded by music, much like they were growing up. The Jordans would hear their extensive families play at home. Then there was gospel at church and the family's record player, which offered a steady rotation of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Chaka Khan and Gino Vannelli. They each studied classical music, for a short time at least — and there was always New Orleans, a city offering its own lessons when they weren't at home.
"I went to McDonough No. 6, and I used to walk to school and hear the Nevilles practice in the morning," Kent said. "Every morning, they would practice on Valence Street. … You could just walk through somebody's neighborhood, and somebody was always practicing."
Eventually, he and the rest of his siblings aged and found their way to the instruments they love. They also found themselves instilling in each other the urge to practice, practice, practice. After their mother let Rachel graduate from a toy violin to the real thing, older brother Paul, who's now an aerospace engineer, served as an example for the younger musician.
Paul "can really play, so I was always trying to catch him, and we used to practice together. … I was really happy when he stopped because he was really good," Rachel laughed. "He was four years older than I was, and I was always trying to compete with him. … It took me some time to realize that he's a little bit older and he has more dexterity, but I would always practice with him and I was so frustrated because he was always so good."
The Jordan family sings and plays at home in New Orleans
The Jordan family sings at home in New Orleans
Similar lessons were on tap for Marlon, the youngest.
"Growing up, I learned how to be a serious musician from watching them practice for hours and hours," he said. "That showed me that if you did get into the family business, either you do it like that, or not do it at all. I just knew it wasn't going to be enough."
As the Jordans developed their young passions into careers, Kidd was always there to help not just as father but also as music business mentor.
"I'll never forget, I was backstage at the Jazz Fest … and Dad introduced me to Betty Carter, and she looked at me and she said, 'Look' — and if you know anything about Betty Carter, she's very straightforward — 'Look, jazz singing is on the job training. The more you do it, the better you get,'" Stephanie laughed. "And that was it, and I never forgot it."
There was other useful advice, too, that the Jordans got from their father's acquaintances. Shirley Horn once told Stephanie, "If you ever get a contract, get all your money up front because you'll never get it on the back end," a statement that now gets laughter and agreement from the family.
But for Kent, the biggest lesson was one that could only come from years of watching his father:
"We all do our own thing, and that's the thing that's the most powerful thing about music, even with families," he said. "I can tell you some of the families I know — the Marsalis family, the Batistes, the Nevilles — there's a dynamic that happens, but music is still an individual type of experience, and I learned that from my dad."