Dedicated to You at the Monterey Jazz Festival

At 7 p.m. sharp we’re in the Arena for Kurt Elling’s “Dedicated to You,” a program of John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman songs and more. Although this is the show he’s bringing to the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis in February as part of the 2008-09 Northrop Jazz Season, we go anyway.
I’ll be glad to see it again in February. Elling’s quartet is augmented by Ernie Watts on tenor sax (this is, after all, a Coltrane/Hartman tribute) and a string quartet called ETHEL. The strings are just right, adding texture without turning this into a Kurt-with-strings project.

Elling begins the evening with a “poetic jazz memory”: “That sweet expression, the smile you gave me, it’s easy to remember—or is it?” He gives some background on the classic ’60s LP on which the show is based. He sings “What’s New?” and then “Lush Life.” I have always wanted to hear Elling sing this beautiful yet tragically sad and enormously challenging song by Billy Strayhorn. No surprise, he nails it.

“Autumn Serenade,” “You Are Too Beautiful,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (at last, he scats). Elling has a strong relationship with the Monterey Jazz Festival—he performed here in 2002 and was Artist-in-Residence in 2006—which he acknowledges by saying, “We’re so happy to be here with our friends again.” He dedicates “My One and Only Love” to “my loves listening on the radio at home.” He doesn’t like being away from his family; when he sings “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (which he doesn’t during this performance, but I have often heard him sing it) you know he means every word, which makes the song especially moving and powerful. Tonight he sings “Lola with the Laughing Face,” at one point changing “Lola” to “Luiza,” his daughter’s name.

His quartet—billed tonight as the Laurence Hobgood Trio—includes Hobgood (“my collaborator”) on piano, Ulysses Owens on drums—and Clark Summers on bass. We’re used to seeing different drummers with Elling’s group, but where’s Rob Amster? “Bessie’s Blues,” entirely scatted, swings us to the end of the set. Satisfying in every way.