I really thought we'd open The Messenger with "The Messenger". We had an intense take of the piece, which Ed Petersen had written some time before and to which I had attached some favorite lyrics. We recorded it using Ed's regular Monday night band (with Jim Widlowski burning up the rhythm). In that session my improvised story or solo was followed by one of Ed's most impassioned and fierce solos. I was so proud of Ed and of the cut. I was hungry to send it out & thought of it as a musical calling card from the future.…read more

I was also really cheesed about "Endless", another Ed Band staple that I thought had come together in a spectacular way in the session. For that cut and based on Ed's great musical writing, I had written out random, free-association words on a napkin from the take-out place we were ordering from those days. I used them as a launching pad for my solo's thematic drive. I was (and am still) very happy with the outcome. The band, of course, sounds burning.

Moreover, Laurence and I had written some new things that I knew people would like — things they'd be happy to have in their lives. "The Beauty Of All Things" came together because Laurence had a vision of me on a windswept, moonlight coastal night at some festival somewhere laying out that music and that message in such a way that we'd know we were doing what we came on this earth to do.

Laurence had also ingeniously sewn "Beauty" and "Prayer For Mr. Davis", his sublime paean with my recently composed lyric in a suite with "The Dance" — a classic LH orchestration. I was coming to know more and more the remarkable gifts my collaborator possessed. He was (and is) musically astonishing.

We also had "Tanya Jean", the first really long-form vocalese lyric I had completed. I wrote it over a favorite Dexter Gordon solo I first heard while living abroad, thanks to my friend Gordon Drummond. I did most of the writing work in a spate of sleep writing experiments I was doing then, staying up 'til all hours with the disc on permanent repeat and waking myself up to write down whatever connections were cohering between melody, emotion, concept and text.

We had a lot of crazy cool stuff, I thought. Well, we sent in the rough mixed to Bruce and Tom Evered at Blue Note. They loved the new stuff, they said, "but do you think you could come up with some standards to round this thing out?"

Standards? I was still young enough to be ignorant of the need in the Jazz world to draw listeners in before bonking them over the head with headstrong new-osity. I was full of beans. Without Tom's request, we would have missed many of the arrangements that have become our fans' favorites, some of our signature things. Sure, I had this vague idea of mixing "April in Paris" with a Metheny-like groove & we also had access to Ed Petersen's "Nature Boy" riff. But to put them on The Messenger? Hmmm.

Thankfully we followed up on Tom's request. You know the rest.

Kurt Elling
Edward Petersen
Tenor Saxophone (6 & 12)
Eddie Johnson
Tenor Saxophone (10)
Orbert Davis
Trumpet (2), Flugelhorn (5)
Dave Onderdonk
Guitar (2, 4 & 11)
Laurence Hobgood
Piano & Synthesizer
Eric Hochberg
Acoustic Bass
(7, 8 & 11)
Rob Amster
Acoustic Bass (1-5, 9, 10 & 12)
Electric Bass (7)
Paul Wertico
Drums (1-5, 7-9 & 11)
Percussion (2 & 11)
1Nature Boy  
2April In Paris   chart
3The Beauty of All Things lyrics   chart
4The Dance  
5Prayer for Mr. Davis lyrics   chart
7Tanya Jean lyrics  
8It's Just A Thing  
9Ginger Bread Boy  
10Prelude To A Kiss  
11The Time Of The Season  
12The Messenger lyrics  
The Beauty of All Things chart

Music by Laurence Hobgood
Lyric by Kurt Elling

There is something within you.
There is something in everything that is:
Unbelievable beauty, flowing from deep inside.
Don't be shocked or surprised if I lift your disguise.
Realize that I can see it in all things, all, but especially you.

There is something we carry,
Like a rhythm that tells us who we are.
It's the rhythm of living. Hear, and we'll come to see
who we can really be-fore Time erases time.
It's sublime. And I can see it in all things, all, but especially you.

The time is upon us to lose our indifference.
For Time isn't holding us anywhere. I declare:
Life gives savoir faire.
Clean the windows of your inner star
And see things as they are:
An infinity of light like a torch in the night.
For the Sun and the Moon and the Stars
Are living within you.
You are shining in everything that is.

Here's what I see in your eyes right now:
Ten thousand lives over many years like leaves on the vine of this morning's glory,
The determination of years coming to fruition
In the ever-present now of your life, unfolding now in the flowering of days.
The constellation of stars in the sky are like a fugue of light in velvet hands.
The melody never ends, echoing again and again.
Nearer still sounds a melody leading through darkened rooms,
Playing like the Sun on the water; like its reflection in your downcast eyes.
When will you come to see you like I do?
And know you like I do? And hear you like I do?
And love you like I do?

Prayer for Mr. Davis chart

Music by Laurence Hobgood
Lyric by Kurt Elling

Yesternight heard the song of the Blackbird
playing bittersweet-ness through the bell of a shimmering horn
in hosts of hundred-colored tones.

In the tones you could hear sacred stories.
You could hear Mr. Davis was smiling his ironic smile at life.

Feeling no shame, though feeling comes with fear,
and fear mingles with trust in what may be a dream.

But still, it seemed to him he'd traveled down the path
of hope and loss and work and pain
and all that's straining
to become itself in time for a breath
(before the death of sound).

Taking hold of a gift from the gods,
measuring odds,
making love to a sound with a voice of its own.
May the tone never end.


Tanya Jean

Music by Donald Byrd
Solo by Dexter Gordon
Vocalese lyric by Kurt Elling based on Dexter Gordon's improvised melody on "Tanya" from the 1964 recording One Flight Up

Hips swayin' to the beat (lip smakin', honey-sweet).
Magnolias in the street - dust under Tanya's feet.

Dig with me this chick lording every clique, name of Tanya Jean.
Even in the thick she'll never miss a trick. She's a royal queen.
Swingin' down the block, stoppin' every clock, wiggin' every scene -
She's got a flock (a man in every dock) diggin' Tanya Jean.

But if she ever would think, for once, she would see that she has been a dunce -
never digging her brains and her beauty are more than the usual front.

She could be swinging ad libitum 'stead of just acting like she was dumb.
(Up and running to run all the savages's no more than just a stunt.

"Come dancing with me in a little dream, Tanya Jean," said Prophet-Man-With-One-Hand-Put-Away. "And we will seek together the stolen vision (vision that was hidden by lovers gone and poets buried). Time, swing over: gonging and banging late-in-life clock assembling a three-ring, peddling a new thing. Telling time, telling tales, telling sights, filling pails with alabaster springing. Here's your life upon a plate regarding its fate. Senility's rumored."

"How can you eat that," asks the girl, with a smirk. "Don't you see how every day, come what may, it's growing - you jerk, you. And thirty centuries of sleeping won't make a dent in giving the time that it's needing. Flipping to appendices, Demosthenes, won't bring about the stumbling of a Beast with weaker knees. This I tell you. So dig it."

"Don't wig it. Come along with me and envision the vision. Maybe then, you will feel. Like the rumbling of a train on tracks a hundred miles away, you can hear pretty clear - like the echoes of the footfalls of childhood in rooms - like a fire, sire, like a pyre; a singing out of desire. Dark angelic bodies in a flying circus come bombing over Flander's Fields.

"And what if darkened drummers who can play just like Elvin never escape the mandibles of their mothers, keeping silence when screaming upwards from deep within his inner voice - crying into the vortex of night, subtle terrors make writing a scrawling of dying-wish notes? Time to make another adversary list up to the sky as you travel by.

"Suddenly bidding is asking. And then it's wishing. You can't stretch your arms out like a lord enfolding thousand stars. So dig it. And lonliness is rolling over levees like a suicidal tidal surge - upending illusiories, strong, of living as defensive. Meanwhile, intimacy calls us into dangers with a siren song of loving long in luxury-to-be (secret, unnameable surging of love into what must always be). It's spilling over infinity to become behemoth: everything, everywhere, everyone, everytime. The kingdom comes from ancient, howling cries of MotherGods.

"Screaming across the open plains of nothingness comes everything that might have been, like great comets blasting through every dark sky. So what if L.T. Dexter's swinging has rarified Mid-Atlantic sounds of Jazz in silk scarves and all fall-colored Paris nights? And Charlie Parker's with him, blowing on his over-grown pitoodle stick and reaching through the thicker places in our heads (intelligence was never, ever, surely, this hard to find). Dig what I'm saying: just because we'll never know The Secret doesn't mean that we should find that we have sold ourselves, like Joseph, into bondage again - time and again, until the end.

"My friend, take your practiced powers and stretch them across the void until everything living has a chance to ponder every contradiction. That might be everyone's doable mission. Just like when Herbie's playing piano - then you can hear it, 'cause he can play it. You don't forget it 'cause Herbie said it when he spoke like a child playing jacks on the floor of a kitchen. And Hermann Hesse said it: 'You'll search for truth among the planets and never find a truer voice than that voice which is calling it out to you - calling you to at least become a human. Instead of being confounded by being. Instead of surfing in the dirt like a serpent, go dance in the whirlwind.' For those who have heard it, God becomes a silence, huge and glowing, flowing from the deepest inner places inside of your heart.

"It's saying, 'Go moaning and groaning, alone-ing. Go rolling on the breast of earth. Report you truly all the lives you see there, like a song growing golden-ripe, like the wheat. Take it! Take this cup I'm passing to you. Drink it. Think it way down into the entrails of your thinking. What moves in secret is not ever nothing. If gateways of seeing were opened, then we could see that everything is just as it always is; infinitely infinite.'

"But now, you see? Time is growing short for me."

Pow! Poof. The dreaming was over. But Prophet-Man had put mind into motion: Tanya Jean was then, hereafter seen to be the queen of what we later called the scene in which a body haverim careen like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Wow.

The Messenger

Music by Ed Petersen
Lyric by Kurt Elling

See both sides clearly
Understand who you are / for once / really, truly see me
Loose your fear / Master the art / Know the secret deep within your heart
Find the strength of your conviction / Bridge the contradiction