Kurt's News Archive - 2009

On December 2 when the 52nd annual GRAMMY nominations were announced in Los Angeles, renowned jazz vocalist Kurt Elling was honored with his eighth GRAMMY nomination for "Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman" in the Best Jazz Vocal category. Laurence Hobgood's arrangement of the title tune also received its own GRAMMY nomination. That's Laurence's second for arranging.

Every one of Kurt's albums has been GRAMMY nominated. Eight albums, ten nominations in all -- that's excellence!

"Dedicated to You" was recorded live at the Allen Room at Lincoln Center and has received critical praise. The Washington Post wrote, "With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz." The Chicago Tribune declared, "His buoyantly creative lines in "Dedicated to You" and arialike phrases in "Lush Life" represent some of the best ballad singing being performed today."

Just before Thanksgiving, Kurt earned perhaps one of the highest honors of his career; headlining the first State Dinner at the White House. As President and Mrs. Obama welcomed the prime minister of India last Tuesday, Elling performed "Nature Boy” with an orchestra directed by Marvin Hamlisch, whose own lists of awards include an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Tony. Elling has a special relationship with the Obamas, having first met the President when he performed at a fundraiser for then-state senator Obama. Then in 2005, Elling he and his wife purchased the Obama's Hyde Park condominium. A well-known jazz enthusiast, President Obama counts himself as one of Kurt Elling's biggest fans.

Although Elling has been nominated for every album in his canon, he has yet to garner a win. There is no doubt that he is the most revered male vocalists in music, not just in jazz. Named "the jazz stand-out male vocalist of our time” by the New York Times and "perhaps the most distinctive singer on the American scene” by the Sunday Times (UK), Elling has never hesitated to take on a musical challenge.

From the creation of multi-disciplinary new works for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre to his Four Brothers collaboration with Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy and Kevin Mahogany, from his epic vocalese versions of John Coltrane's "Resolution” or Dexter Gordon's "Body and Soul” to his creation and direction of a commissioned two-hour extravaganza for the City of Chicago's millennial celebrations, Elling has applied his unsurpassed creativity to one project after another.

Elling's unmatched languid baritone is only equaled by his embrace of true artistic exploration, making him one of America's most unheralded national treasures. Indeed, those traits along with his cool Sinatra swagger and style has earned Elling top spot placements in the DownBeat Critics' and Jazz Times Readers' polls year after year. Although mainstream audiences have inexplicably eluded him, it is likely that 2010 will be Kurt Elling's year.

The GRAMMY Awards ceremony will be held January 31st at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on CBS.

As always, bountiful and heartfelt congratulations, Kurt and Laurence!

Guess who's singing at dinner?

Tuesday night, when President and Mrs. Obama welcome the prime minister of India to their first State Dinner, poll-topping Chicago vocalist Kurt Elling will take the stage to provide the entertainment. He'll be joined by his longtime pianist and musical director, Laurence Hobgood, performing with an orchestra directed by Marvin Hamlisch (whose own list of awards would make a nice little family portrait – Emmy, Oscar, and Tony).

Although he has been living in New York for the last year and a half, most listeners and critics still do consider Elling – recently named Male Vocalist of the Year in the Downbeat Readers Poll (ahead of Tony Bennett) – to be a "Chicago vocalist.” There's good reason. He made his reputation with nearly a decade's worth of weekly showcases at the Green Mill, the setting for his fourth album. Before that, he learned the ropes with such Chicago mentors as Ed Petersen and Von Freeman. Even as Elling has polished his much lauded vocal style, he retains the hometown grit and daring that make Chicago's jazz scene unique.

Chicago is also where the singer first met then-Congressman Obama -- in the course of a real-estate deal. I know, I know, you hear "Chicago,” real estate,” and "Obama” in the same sentence, you get a little worried. But this was nothing sleazy: when the Obamas moved to the Chicago house they now own, they sold their Hyde Park condominium to Elling and his wife.

Official State Dinners, as you may have already read, are impossibly baroque events featuring silverware by the pound and glassware by the yard. On the other hand, well-traveled jazz musicians like Elling and Hobgood are famous for their cool, unflappable approach to both the highs and the lows they encounter on the road. So is this a case in point? Is even a White House gig "just a gig”?

I reached Elling briefly Monday night, en route to his sound check at the South Lawn of the White House. He had just enough time to confirm the facts before saying, "I have to go now and do what the Secret Service guys are telling me to do.”

I think that sentence alone lifts this one out of "just a gig” territory.

By Neil Tesser, for the Chicago Jazz Music Examiner.com, November 23, 2009

Once again, Kurt Elling has been named Male Vocalist of the Year in the DownBeat Critics Poll and in its Readers Poll. It's a clean sweep!

The 74th Readers Poll results are in the December 2009 issue of DownBeat.

Kurt Elling: 604 votes
Tony Bennett: 519 votes
Bobby McFerrin: 347 votes
Mark Murphy: 190 votes
Joao Gilberto: 183 votes

Critics Poll results were announced in the August issue.

This is the fifth year Kurt has topped the DownBeat Readers Poll, winning in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and now 2009.

He's won the top spot in the Critics Poll ten years in a row, ever since 2000.

As always, hearty congratulations, Kurt!

September 15th, 2009

It's been an exciting, memorable summer for Kurt Elling!

The Jazz Journalists Association named him Male Singer of the Year for the fifth time.

He topped the Down Beat Critics Poll for Male Vocalist of the Year for the tenth straight year.

The Kurt Elling Quartet opened for the legendary Dave Brubeck in at the Tri-City Jazz Festival in Cleveland.

On June 23, Concord released his eighth album (his second for Concord), Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings Coltrane and Hartman. It's garnered rave reviews and it's been high on the JazzWeek chart for twelve weeks, taking the #1 spot in its second week out.

"Lush Life" from Dedicated to You was featured as NPR's Song of the Day in July.

The US and Canadian tours for Dedicated to You with Kurt, Laurence and the band, Ernie Watts on tenor, and the string quartet ETHEL started with a great run at Birdland in New York. Then they played across Canada and down the West Coast, finishing with shows at Catalina's Los Angeles.

Kurt performed again with Bill Charlap at Jazz in July at New York's 92nd Street Y, this year doing Sondheim and Styne.

Kurt was also the featured guest on John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey's Radio Deluxe, taped live at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend. That show will be broadcast nationally the weekend of September 26 and then be available as a podcast on the Radio Deluxe website.

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Looking ahead to Kurt's creative, jam-packed fall:

Kurt performs at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival September 18-19 with the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars: Kenny Barron Trio, Regina Carter, and Russell Malone. These greats will be touring together next February and April. For details, see: Monterey Jazz on Tour and the KE Touring page.

After some other dates in the States, Kurt and the band team up again with Ernie Watts and head for Europe for another Dedicated to You tour. This one begins in Ireland and takes them on a whirlwind trip to ten other countries from October 24 through November 16. Whew!

In between, Kurt, Laurence, the band, and special guests are going into the studio to record their new album to be released in 2010. Expect surprises -- something completely different than Dedicated To You. More of their usually unusual fare, this time with things by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Earth Wind and Fire, and Stevie Wonder. A guitar thing with a backbeat -- but jazz guitar and a jazz backbeat.

Most of all, as Kurt reminds us, it's time to be joyful again!

Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman shot up to the #1 spot on the JazzWeek chart for the week of July 6. It's only been out since June 23 and has garnered a growing collection of glowing reviews.

NPR's Song of the Day for July 7 featured Kurt's "Lush Life" from Dedicated to You.

And once again, the critics have declared Kurt the top male vocalist in the 57th Downbeat Critics Poll.

He has been named the Downbeat Critics Poll Male Vocalist of the Year for ten consecutive years, from 2000 through 2009, and was awarded Talent Deserving Wider Recognition from 1997 to 2000.

As always, hearty congratulations Kurt for these well-deserved honors!

Kurt Elling: Doing Justice To John Coltrane
NPR Song of the Day

By Marc Silver
July 7, 2009

Elling tackles the iconic "Lush Life" without seeming intimidated by the song's stature.

* "Lush Life"
* CD: Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman
* Artist: Kurt Elling
* Label: Concord Jazz
* Released: 2009

NPR.org, July 7, 2009 - Kurt Elling has a lot of gumption. On Dedicated to You, his new CD, he sings the songs of Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, including the utterly iconic "Lush Life" — which has been performed by not only Coltrane, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole and even Donna Summer. Is there anything left to bring to this confession about the sad wake of a rocky romance?

The answer is yes. The 41-year-old "male singer of the year" (according to the Jazz Journalists Association), Elling doesn't seem intimidated by the song's stature, and that's the key to his success. He doesn't try to reinvent "Lush Life"; he just sings it as if it happened to him.

Elling's warm and pure baritone is a perfect match for the song's opening lines, all about a young man's entry into the world of "jazz and cocktails." As is usually the case, things don't go well: A siren tempts him and tosses him. Elling turns words like "wrong" (as in "I was...") and "brain" (as in, "You're burning inside my...") into high-pitched moans. When he says he'll "rot with the rest," Elling slurs his words just a hair. At the end, he emits a heart-breaking wordless note, very Coltrane-like. And then he probably orders a drink.

Kurt Elling Full NPR Music Archive

For the fifth time, the Jazz Journalists Association has given the honor of Male Jazz Singer of the Year to Kurt Elling! The 13th Annual JJA Jazz Awards ceremony was held June 16 at The Jazz Standard in New York City.

Congratulations to all the winners, and especially to Kurt!

With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz. – Washington Post

On June 23rd, Grammy nominated and critically-acclaimed vocalist Kurt Elling will release Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, his eighth overall album and second release on Concord Jazz. The live collection was recorded in January 2009 in Manhattan as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. The 12-track release features an all-star cast of musicians including saxophonist Ernie Watts, the Laurence Hobgood Trio and the string quartet, ETHEL.

Throughout his eclectic career, Kurt Elling has roved freely across vocalese, transformed instrumental music, tunes from the Great American Songbook, poetry, theatre, dance and more. His new project began in his home town "as an idea suggested by my friends at the Chicago Jazz Festival,” recalls Elling. "They gave me a call and asked me essentially to reiterate the John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman material for a bill they were planning. I'm always happy to have an idea like that. But it didn't interest me quite as much to simply reiterate the material. So I asked if I could do it my own way.”

As the program morphed through various phases, one aspect was consistent – Elling's desire to place the music in the setting of a string quartet, first with acoustic bass, and later with a complete jazz trio led by Laurence Hobgood, his long-time musical companion, pianist, who also provided most of the arrangements. Kurt recruited Ernie Watts on saxophone and ETHEL, and the group began touring with the project. The response to the program was wonderful and Kurt decided to record the set live in New York at the Allen Room in Lincoln Center.

Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman is a stunning spectrum of music, both vocal and instrumental. The album opens with an introductory interpretation of the American Songbook classic, "All or Nothing At All,” in which the interconnectedness between Elling's vocal and Watt's tenor saxophone calls up immediate references to the Coltrane/Hartman source. The transformative interpretations of songs such as "Autumn Serenade,” "Nancy With the Laughing Face” and "You Are Too Beautiful” are definitive examples of how to remain true to the inner essence of a song.

"When you hear any of those great masters – like Coltrane – and realize the incredible gift from God that is given to those people, you can't overstate their importance to the jazz world, to the world in general. And we were very much aware of that fact as we put all this together,” remarked Elling.

Since Elling has been touring with Dedicated To You, the project has received critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Chicago Tribune called it "...some of the best ballad singing being performed today."

Jazzwise Magazine declared, "Barely taking one deep breath, he pours out a lifetime's worth of emotion. Haunting yet equally comforting, the baritone voice ought to be patented as a new instrument."

The New York Times said, "Mr. Elling has proved his finesse as a Hartman-like melodist...accessing both Coltrane and Hartman, he sounded like no one but himself."

Throughout his career Elling has earned eight Grammy nominations, top spot placement in the Down Beat Critics' and Jazz Times Readers' polls, four Jazz Journalists Association wins for Best Male Vocalist and the Prix Billie Holiday from the Académie du Jazz in Paris.

Track Listing:

All or Nothing at All (6:50)
It's Easy to Remember (A Jazz Story Memory) (4:05)
Dedicated to You (6:35)
What's New (Instrumental) – Ernie Watts (2:40)
Lush Life (4:39)
Autumn Serenade (3:10)
Say It (Over and Over Again) (6:40)
They Say It's Wonderful (3:59)
My One and Only Love (3:26)
Nancy with the Laughing Face (4:56)
Acknowledgments (:38)
You Are Too Beautiful (8:10)

Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman will be released June 23 in the US on Concord Jazz. European release is scheduled for fall in advance of Kurt's Dedicated to You European tour 27 October - 16 November.

And enjoy the beautiful Electronic Press Kit video for Dedicated to You, taped at the Allen Room in Lincoln Center.

April 2nd, 2009

When the Heart Dances.jpg

Laurence Hobgood's long-awaited duet album with bassist Charlie Haden, When the Heart Dances, will be released on The Naim Label on April 20 in Europe and in the US this summer!

A two-record vinyl version will also be released in May.

When the Heart Dances features Kurt Elling on three tunes. Five of the compositions are originals by Laurence and/or Charlie. KEQ fans may have heard Laurence perform his exquisite composition, Sanctuary, at live shows over the past few years.

In the EU, When the Heart Dances will be available everywhere -- in record stores and on the web: The Naim e-store, Amazon in Europe, Amazon digital, and all the other usual web outlets. Many of those ship to US customers as well. Check shipping and price.

It will also be available for download on iTunes.

US availability will be announced soon.

When the Heart Dances was recorded in 2008 at the California Institute of the Arts, home of Charlie Haden's award-winning CalArts Jazz Studies Program. Ken Christianson, sound recording master extraordinaire, recorded it using his True Stereo method that gives the listener a live, acoustically realistic experience. No editing, mixing, or sweetening involved. Just the music.

And what music!

Track list:

1. Que Sera Sera
2. When The Heart Dances
3. First Song (featuring Kurt Elling)
4. Sanctuary (Laurence Hobgood, solo piano)
5. Chickoree
6. Stairway To The Stars (featuring Kurt Elling)
7. New Orleans
8. Why Did I Choose You?
9. Leatherwood (Laurence Hobgood, solo piano)
10. Daydream (featuring Kurt Elling)
11. The Cost Of Living

Dave Brubeck said Laurence is "one of the most incredible pianists I've ever heard." Jazz writers call him "an underrated and underappreciated artist of high order" and "one of the finest pianists out there. Period."

When the Heart Dances showcases the apex of his artistry, in partnership with two other jazz greats. Order your copy today!

Ordering Update: Prior to April 20, fans everywhere can preorder at great prices from two webstores in the UK. Both ship to the US at very reasonable rates.

Crotchet's special sales price is £11.50 through the end of May. They ship airmail worldwide.

Amazon UK sells this CD for £11.69.

After April 20, When the Heart Dances will be widely available throughout Europe.

A limited number of copies of the fabulous Live in Montreal DVD are now available in Kurt's Store.

For all you fans in the US who weren't able to get one from a European outlet, here's your golden opportunity. Get yours while they last!

Hey, Isn't That...?

Marian Robinson at Kurt Elling's concert Saturday at the Kennedy Center? The first mother-in-law and three friends came to hear the Chicago jazz singer, who bought his Chicago condo from Barack and Michelle Obama in 2005. Robinson went backstage after the performance and told Elling: "Barack said to say hello."

~ Roxanne Roberts & Amy Argetsinger, The Reliable Source, The Washington Post, March 2, 2009

Once again, Kurt has won first place in the 2008 JazzTimes Readers' Poll for male vocalist of the year.

Tony Bennett, Mark Murphy, and Jamie Cullum got honorable mentions.

You can see the full results here.

As always, congratulations, Kurt!