Though he has enjoyed greater acceptance since he burst upon the music world in 1995 with his first album on the Blue Note label titled, Close Your Eyes, Elling's uncompromising devotion to exploring deeply the rhythmic and harmonic freedoms of today's top instrumentalist, paid off quite admirably in his latest 11-track 1619 Broadway-The Brill Building Project.
Elling's approach to the vocal art has involved straight ballad singing, scatting, humming, whistling and occasional ventures into songwriting. He has been a chance-taker; sometimes the gambles haven't paid off, artistically or financially, but more often, especially during the past few years, he has ended ahead. His version of You Send Me involves a gloriously eclectic of smooth lines and runs, it also entails soft and wondrous and wordless interludes which will recall some reflections of Elling's mentor, the incomparable Mark Murphy.
Over the past two decades, the 44 year-old Elling has built a commendable backlog of albums, among the most notable being a splendid collection of songs on the Blue Note label years (1995-2005), Close Your Eyes (1995). The album featured Edward Petersen and Von Freeman on tenor saxophone, Dave Onderdonk on guitar, Laurence Hobgood on piano, Eric Hochberg and Rob Amster on acoustic bass, and Paul Wertico on drums.
Close Your Eyes was followed several years later by The Messenger (1997), with Elling releasing a total of seven albums for the Blue Note label.
In August 2006, Elling signed a new record contract with Concord Jazz, and his first album with the label, Nightmoves, was released in 2007. On January 31, 2010, Elling won his first GRAMMY AWARD in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album for the album Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman on the Concord Jazz label.
Elling continues to add to his stockpile of lyricized jazz and pop music works. In The Brill Building Project, Elling collaborated with hit songwriter and educator Phil Galdston who is remembered for the hit Save The Best For Last, to assist in researching songs for the album. The results are absolutely astronomical to say the least — Elling's riveting rendition of On Broadway, A House Is Not A Home, and Pleasant Valley Sunday, pushes the edge and goes beyond the fringe, yet at the same time he celebrates the mainstream.
Elling comes up with more good, not overdone tunes than just about anyone else. Take for example the I Only Have Eyes For You track — Elling's performance is rife with references, both literary and lowbrow. He ends the song with an in-person representation of a natural ability called "low-fade octave," in which he lowers the volume of his voice vocally with dramatic diminuendo.
Elling, a native of Chicago, and his family have lived in Manhattan since 2008, and 1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project is his repose to that experience. The London Telegraph called the legendary location "the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world." A honeycomb of offices and and claustrophobic studios at 1619 Broadway, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the fabled Brill Building at it peak served as the creative home of more than 160 tenants associated with the pop music industry.
The Brill Building Project is undoubtedly Kurt Elling's most successful concept album in his extraordinary career; and he has taken a giant leap from his comfort zone of jazz to formulate his ultimate statement on literary and musical beatnikism.