Grammy-winning singer-lyricist Kurt Elling is getting ready to release his much-anticipated new album 1619 Broadway. The title refers to the address of the 81-year-old Brill Building on 49th Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan, in New York City. In its heyday, the building was home to the world's best songwriting teams who would compete to outdo each other constantly.
The new album showcases 11 Great American standards as interpreted and arranged by Elling, including "On Broadway," "A House Is Not A Home," "So Far Away," and "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
"We have our top position on this record called 'I Only Have Eyes For You' which I think a lot of people would know as a hit that the Flamingos had way back in the days," Elling told VOA's Jazz Beat. "So, what we're doing is I tried to comb through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hit songs that came out of the Brill Building and choose things that I could get behind emotionally and I thought were relevant at this point and present them in a way that reflected my kind of aesthetic in my view as a jazz singer."
1619 Broadway is Elling's 11th album. He started writing music and lyrics about 20 years ago. His music heroes include Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, Joe Williams, and Stevie Wonder.
He says Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin also influenced him to develop his own style. "I have developed my own take on things, which is what you hear on 1619 Broadway," he explained. "You hear me as myself doing what I do to music that I believe in."
Elling has a rich four-octave baritone voice that features both astonishing technical mastery and emotional depth. I asked him what song he would love to sing best — "I wish I could sing 'Drown in My Own Tears' in a way that someway it would pass – which is impossible – the way Aretha Franklin sang it," he responded. "And there's no way that I'll ever do it. If I could sing 'Drown in My Own Tears' in a way that was more sorrowful and more heavy that what Aretha Franklin did to it, then that would be the whole concept for me. I would come out, I would just sing that song then walk off the stage. That would be the night."