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Young Jazz Singer Earns His Place Among the Greats PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 10 December 2002 18:00
After hearing Kurt Elling in person and listening to his CDs, I have to agree with the Downbeat magazine critics polls – something I normally do not do – that named him the number-one jazz male vocalist in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

The Quad Cities will have the opportunity to see why this weekend. Quad City Arts, as part of its Visiting Artist series, has brought Elling to the Quad Cities for a two-week residency, culminating in an open-to-the-public concert at the Capitol Theatre in Davenport on Saturday, December 14, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and children. Elling’s residency has also included workshops at schools, colleges, and senior and handicapped centers.

I have caught Kurt at three different Chicago jazz festivals, the first one a tribute for the legendary Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, the second one when he was featured with one of his idols, jazz singer Mark Murphy, and the last one at the 2001 festival, when he performed with his band and three guest artists immediately prior to the evening’s headliner, Dave Brubeck.

In the 1990s, while a theology student in Chicago, Kurt began sitting in on vocals with bands at the Green Mill jazz club. Before long he was a featured artist in this historic jazz club, where he is still performing every week when he’s in town.

Shortly Kurt was composing lyrics for instrumental jazz standards and transcribing solos by such jazz giants as Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock in the same manner as had previously been done by “vocalese” artists Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks. His first CD, Close Your Eyes on Blue Note Records, helped gain him national and worldwide attention. During the past five years, Kurt has toured Europe four times, Japan twice, and Australia three times, and he has played countless gigs throughout the United States. He has recorded five CDs on the Blue Note label.

During the past year, photographs and a portrait of Kurt have appeared on the covers of three jazz magazines along with feature articles. The January 2002 issue of Cadence Jazz & Blues magazine includes a lengthy interview of Kurt by writer Larry Nai.

In the January 2002 issue of Jazziz magazine, Kurt writes as if from a diary, mostly about troubles he experiences as a jazz musician and bandleader. The entries illustrate how difficult the touring life can be. On July 25 and 27, he complains about problems he’s having obtaining an adequate cover for his new CD and finding a venue for his release concert. On August 4, he writes about trying to get around a sound problem at a Madaro, Japan, concert. And on August 10 and 11, he writes about the hassles he and his band have when they travel, such as having to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight from Chicago to New York, driving a rental van five hours through a storm to New Haven, Connecticut, for a three-hour rehearsal, then driving four-and-a-half hours the next morning to the Newport Jazz Festival and having to leave immediately afterward to drive back to New York to make a flight back to Chicago.

The December 2002 issue of Downbeat magazine features an article on how Kurt instigated and put together a concert at the Park View venue in Chicago of him performing with three other top jazz singers, 81-year-old Jon Hendricks, 70-year-old Mark Murphy, and 45-year-old Kevin Mahogony. Kurt Elling, you should know, is only 35.

To order tickets for Kurt Elling’s performance Saturday at the Capitol Theatre, call the Augustana College box office at (309)794-7306.
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