This week, let's take the opportunity to renew our musical acquaintanceship with singer Kurt Elling, who's returning to St. Louis next week to perform Wednesday, February 27 through Saturday, March 2 at Jazz at the Bistro.
Elling, considered by many critics and fans to be the top male jazz singer working today, has been a regular visitor to St. Louis. He was here most recently in November 2011 touring in support of The Gate, his then-current album which featured interpretations of songs associated with Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Joe Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, and other rock and pop musicians.
Since that visit, Elling has continued his efforts to expand the jazz songbook with his latest album 1619 Broadway - The Brill Building Project, which came out last year and focuses on pop songs created at the famous NYC address that served as the professional home for many top songwriters in the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, we'll take a look at some of what Elling's been up to since his last trip to St. Louis, starting up top with a song from his new album, his re-imagining of Come Fly With Me," the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn standard made famous by Frank Sinatra. This performance is from May 2012 at the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris, and features Elling with longtime pianist/musical director Laurence Hobgood, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Quincy Davis.
Down below, there's a performance from the same gig of I Only Have Eyes For You," also recorded by Elling on 1619 Broadway, followed by two more examples of how Elling reworks diverse material for his own purposes. The spare, bluesy version of Ray Charles' Lonely Avenue" was recorded last year at Elling's old stomping grounds The Green Mill in Chicago, while the country-meets-scat-singing rendition of Cheap Trick's pop hit I Want You To Want Me" is from one of a series of shows that Elling did with guitarist Charlie Hunter last summer in Europe.
The fifth clip also is from that tour with Hunter, but offers something very different, with Elling singing an unaccompanied version of a Civil War folk song called He's Gone Away" at the Musicamdo Festival in Camerino, Italy. (A hat-tip to Pamela Espelund for pointing this one out.)
Finally, just for fun, we set the time machine back to November, 1993 for the sixth clip, which shows a then-26-year-old Kurt Elling, a good two years before his major label debut recording, in a gig at the Cook County Jail, of all places. He's fronting the Chicago Jazz All-Stars in a version of Horace Silver's Doodlin," and it's a fascinating early look that at him that reveals some aspects of his style and stage persona already well-developed and others still being formed.
For more current Elling, you can listen to NPR's archived broadcast of his set at last summer's Newport Jazz Festival here, and the press page on Elling's website has links to several recent news stories about the new album.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.