Songwriter Marc Jordan, who has penned songs for Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Cher and Josh Groban, had a childhood secret that was a source of shame and pain for him when he was growing up and into adulthood.
A bright kid, he had trouble reading and writing and didn’t know why. Jordan, now 67, was in the school system before awareness of dyslexia was widespread. It’s an inherited condition that makes it difficult to recognize and comprehend written words.
“I didn’t know what it was. Nobody knew,” he said on the phone from Los Angeles, where he was writing songs for Stewart’s new album.
Jordan said he was frustrated in school and grew to dislike it. “I always sat at the back of the class and never put my hand up. My teachers got the message I didn’t want to work.”
He spent hours doing homework and still failed his tests. Luckily, his parents believed in him. “They knew I was smart,” Jordan said.
He was acting out and getting into trouble in his last couple of years at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto, when his parents sent him to the Hincks Institute, a children’s mental health centre, for testing.
“They gave me a number of tests where I scored high when they were conceptual and visual,” Jordan said. “Then I knew something was wrong with how I was processing information.”
In the end, though, Jordan said his dyslexia was a kind of blessing. Raised in a musical family – his father was the singer Charles Jordan, a part-time cantor at Holy Blossom Temple – he was enrolled for piano lessons. The lessons were a struggle for him because when he tried to read music, the notes swam around on the page in front of him. But he figured out how to do his homework, to learn a piece for the next lesson, without reading music.
“I had a trick,” Jordan recalled. He explained that he would ask his teacher to play the piece at the end of the lesson. “I would run home and try to remember it. So I developed a good ear for music.”
Inspired by Bob Dylan and music he heard on the radio – “that was my school,” Jordan said – he gravitated to popular music, where playing by ear is commonplace.
Jordan’s dyslexia remained undiagnosed for many years, though, until about 15 years ago. Tests given to his daughter, Zoe, then eight or nine years old, determined that she had dyslexia. And then Jordan realized he had it, too.
“Kids with dyslexia learn in a different way and have to be allowed to learn in a different way,” he said.
Jordan wants to help young people with dyslexia learn, and is looking to partner with an organization. He now takes the view that dyslexia isn’t a learning disability, but rather a “different way of processing information. It’s not a deficit or handicap,” he said. In fact, people with dyslexia, like Jordan, are often creative, perhaps because of the unique way they process information, thinking mainly in pictures instead of in words.
Jordan, who is based in Toronto, has released 14 albums of his own, many of them critically acclaimed, and he’s written 200 songs for a long list of singers, including international and Canadian stars. His songs have been featured on some 35 million records.
Jordan said that lately people have been asking him to perform songs from his archive. Why hasn’t he done it before? “It never came to me,” he said modestly.
So he decided to embark on his Narcissist’s Guide to Songwriting Tour 2015-16. His sets will include Rhythm of My Heart, a No. 1 hit for Stewart; Soul on Soul, recorded by Stewart and Jordan’s wife, Amy Sky; Pieces of Ice, which was first covered by Diana Ross; Fall From Grace, a big hit for Amanda Marshall, and Marina Del Rey, one of Jordan’s most popular songs. He’ll be sharing stories about some of the artists he’s worked with, too.
Jordan’s tour stops at the Aeolian Hall, in London, Ont., on March 12; LIVEact Theatre, in Whitby, Ont., March 13; The Neat, Burnstown (near Ottawa), March 14, and the Jazz Bistro, Toronto, March 27 and 28. He’ll be backed by Dave Restivo on piano, Mark Lalama on keyboards, Russ Boswell on bass and Kevan McKenzie on drums. For more information, visit www.marcjordan.com.