Brilliant choice: Singer to reinterpret work by songwriting royalty

Grammy Award-winning Kurt Elling, regarded as one of music's great jazz vocalists, will be one of the stars at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz this August. He joins a stellar line-up that includes master guitarist Earl Klugh, trombone ace Wycliffe Gordon, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Elling has never had an opportunity to perform in South Africa and is excited at the chance he has been given now.

“We are bringing a great band. We will be fresh from a bunch of gigs we've done and a new recording of some of our favourite songs,” he says.

His new material will consist of music from the famous Brill Building where, in the Sixties, producer Don Kirshner placed the best and brightest songwriters of those years; writing duos such as Lieber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Mann and Weil, Bacharach and David, Pomus and Shuman, Sedaka and Greenfield. Elling felt that these were compositions that more people were going to know and they would be performing the songs in their own kind of style.

“I know people have done piecemeal collections from the Brill, but I don't know of another jazz artist who has done a complete recording like this; a complete album,” he says.

It was a challenge selecting tracks, Elling admitted, because there was so much material. He wanted to make sure, though, that he chose songs that were not necessarily the most famous, but ones that resonated with him personally.

Since his first recording, Close Your Eyes, in 1995, Elling has recorded a series of albums over a span of 17 years, and still finds the business immensely challenging.

“I love touring,” he said, “and I love meeting people, seeing the world and making friends through music. It's all I wanted when I started.”

Elling never suspected that he would make music his career. He was working for a degree in philosophy and at nights he would go to Chicago nightclubs and take to the bandstand.

“I was thinking of going into the world of academics when jazz musicians would, time and again, put their arms around my shoulders and say, 'Hey, you belong with us,'” he smiles.

Writing and selecting material, he said, was an intuitive process.

“There is really not an analytical way to fill out a musical creation.

You can, but then you would be a mathematician. I intuitively enjoy what I am hearing and I feel something for it.

There are certain songs that stand the test of time. As a writer you learn things over time and you want to get better at it and you have a few tricks up your sleeve and you know how to handle situations better,” he says.

Asked if he had advice for budding jazz singers, Elling says that one has to have “drive, nerve and some kind of a gift to share.”

He adds that they must also be prepared to work hard – he should know, having carved a special niche  for himself in the industry.