To cap off a stellar jazz season celebrating the 90th birthdays of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, the organizers at Koerner Hall managed to bring together two top male vocalists who excel at the top of their game. The vocalists are fellow Canadian superstar Denzal Sinclaire and beloved American superstar Kurt Elling.
As Sinclaire opened the first set, he showed both his strengths as a Nat King Cole influenced singer and an all around complete musician playing guitar, melodica, piano and even drums. For instance, his take on the opening "All of Me" displayed his caressing vocals and his swinging prowess on the brush kit. After a bit of swinging jazz, he switched to acoustic guitar as he delved into R&B repertoire courtesy of the Dinah Washington classic "I Don't Hurt Anymore" and the folk pop inflections of the piece "I'm Getting Ready". Those performances effectively showed his contemporary side and adaptability toward other styles of music other than jazz.
Sinclaire captivated the audience again with a funky take on the Gershwin classic "I Got Rhythm", doubling on piano as well as voice. Bringing a Mediterranean/Latin vibe to "You And the Night and the Music", his use of the melodica brought a certain exotic flair to the performance along with his backup band. He capped off the night performing the original composition "You Treat Me So Good". It was funky jazz at its swinging best and it showed that he should be composing more songs in a similar vein.
After Sinclaire's set, Elling brought on a captivating performance that showed why he is consistently ranked as the top male vocalist of his generation. Through the straight opening take on "Come Fly With Me" he brought in a lot of soul, soaring vocal prowess and new life into a classic standard made popular by Frank Sinatra. Among the other highlights of his great set is a funky take on "You Send Me", the interplay of vocal and rhythm on their version of "On Broadway", and a swinging, scat-infused take on the classic "I'm Satisfied".
Elling is also a vocalist who is a complete musician, but primarily uses his voice to achieve such musical effects. For instance, he sees himself as part of the band ensemble when he does vocal effects and interacts with the musicians during the "On Broadway" performance. Elling's voice was like a well tuned and a well-executed instrument when he caressed vocally in performances such as "Skylark" and when he brought high-octane scat and energy into performances such as "I'm Satisfied".
Both Sinclaire and Elling honoured the legacies of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington perfectly with captivating vocal performances of their own that showed the heart and soul of singing at its best. Overall, it was a stellar concert put on by two great vocalists who do a whole lot more than just sing lyrics; they interpret and treat it musically as their very own.