Gustavus graduate Kurt Elling up for another Grammy

When the annual Grammy Awards are held on Sunday, February 12, Gustavus Alumnus Kurt Elling ’89 will be among the nominees for Best Jazz Vocal Album for his latest jazz album entitled The Gate. For Elling, this is his eleventh Grammy nomination.
Elling received his first nomination in 1995 in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category for his album Close Your Eyes. Since then, all nine of his albums have received nominations. In 2010, he won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Dedicated To You.

“People have been very generous and enthusiastic on my behalf. Many individuals have been pulling for me for a long time now and were excited for me. It has been a sweet time,” Elling said.

The Gate features longtime associate Laurence Hobgood on piano, Bob Mintzer on sax, John McLean on guitar, John Patitucci on bass and two drummers, Terreon Gulley and Kobie Watkins—in addition to percussionist Lenny Castro.

Elling said, “The musicians on this recording inspired me to be … better.”

The New York Times, one of the numerous publications to declare Elling as the “standout male vocalist of our time,” declared that The Gate, as Elling’s follow-up to his Grammy-winning album Dedicated To You, is among his strongest albums and “perhaps the finest of his career.” The Washington Post published, “Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz.”

Elling cannot recall a time in his life when he was not singing.

“Music was always a joy to me, and I did it because it was natural and made me happy,” he said.

“My advice to all aspiring jazz singers and for everyone else alike is to find something that you love—apart from any expectations or judgements that you may have adopted from parents or friends—and give your all to its development. Be smarter, more dedicated, more intrepid and tireless than anyone you meet. See as clearly as you can what you want and drive relentlessly toward that goal.”

A history major with a minor in religion, Elling was involved in a variety of activities that fed his passion for the musical arts during his time at Gustavus such as the Gustavus Choir, Chamber Singers and the Stage Band as a vocalist.

“I have very good memories of being challenged and driven while in the Gustavus Choir under the direction of Karle Erickson. My memories with the Stage Band are equally pleasant. I enjoyed both my time in the choir and the band equally. But—as I think is the case with most people—it was the friendships I developed that made the most difference,” Elling said.

Besides being involved in the performing arts at Gustavus, Elling took on numerous other academic endeavors, which include taking an independent study of Hegel with then-Chaplain Richard Elvee, completing a senior thesis on Teddy Roosevelt and spending a year studying abroad in Scotland.

Since graduating from Gustavus, Elling has been developing his skills as a jazz musician, an entrepreneur and a father. Married to dancer Jennifer Carney, the couple gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Luiza, in 2005.

The same year, they purchased a condominium in Hyde Park, Chicago from the Obama family. Currently living in New York, Elling remains as dedicated to the performing arts as ever.

“The arts stimulate and require the maximum amount of growth in learning and problem-solving. Therefore, artists tend to be the first to realize the future and to see it coming and respond to it like flags that feel the wind long before anything on the ground realizes a sense of change.”