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When singer Kurt Elling last visited St. Louis in December 2009 to perform at Jazz at the Bistro, he was touring in support of his then-recent CD Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane & Hartman. Elling will be back again next week to play the Bistro from Wednesday, November 16 through Saturday, November 19, and this time he'll no doubt include material from The Gate, his most recent album released earlier this year.
Produced by Don Was, who's overseen recordings for Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and others but is not known specifically as a jazz producer, The Gate includes interpretations of songs associated with Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Joe Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, and other rock and pop muscians.
One of those songs, Jackson's Steppin' Out," is today's first video clip up above. The performance is from a show earlier this year at the club Anthology in San Diego, with a band including Elling's longtime collaborator and pianist Laurence Hobgood, plus Harish Raghavan on bass and Ulysses Owens on drums.
Elling's trio is joined by guitarist John McLean in the second clip for a version of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood." Below that, there's an early version of another track that wound up on The Gate, a re-imagining of bassist Marc Johnson's Samurai Hee-Haw" renamed Samurai Cowboy" by Elling and recorded in 2009 at Pizza Express in London.
Below that, you'll see Elling singing Stevie Wonder's Golden Lady," taken from a 2009 performance in Paris with Hobgood, Raghavan, drummer Otis Brown III and saxophonist Ernie Watts.
That's followed by an interview with Elling, conducted this past summer for the Chicago arts magazine show Fear No ART, and an excerpt from a vocal master class that Elling presented earlier this year at the North Sea Jazz Festival.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.