Jazz Great Kurt Elling Visits the Studio – Booth One, Episode 15

Earlier this fall Kurt sat down with Gary Zabinski for a rich and wide-ranging interview for Booth One – Adventures in the Art of Lively Conversation.
You can listen to the full 55 minute podcast here.

Kurt and Gary have been Chicago friends for a long time, and Kurt sang “That's All” for the first dance at Gary & Betsy's wedding reception 10 years ago. At the very end of the podcast, you can hear that performance, beginning at 52:00.

Much of their conversation is about Kurt's latest CD, Passion World. Kurt talks about the inspiration behind the album, his song selections, and some of his musician friends who perform on it. Kurt and French accordionist extraordinaire, Richard Galliano, first performed Passion World in 2010 at Jazz at Lincoln Center. That project grew over the next 5 years, culminating in the release of the Passion World recording in June 2015. Some selections were recorded in concert with large groups and others in the studio.

Gary says this is his all-time favorite Kurt Elling CD!

Gary asks Kurt about his world travels and his favorite destinations. Kurt names many, including Holland which he calls “a jazz country” where they also get his jokes.

Kurt talks about growing up in a religious household filled with music. His father was a kappelmeister who taught him what music can do to uplift the spirit and be a source of exaltation and healing. His spirituality now is closer to Rilke's advice to “live the questions,” to feel the numinous and experience true awe.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

In his performances Kurt seeks to remind audiences (and himself) of a larger sense of transcendence, a more open-ended and joyful feeling.

In response to Gary's question, Kurt talks about the jazz format and what jazz really is – composition in real time. He talks about scatting and the way improvisation works in jazz. He says that music is not what's written down – that's notation. Music is what's played in the moment, and in jazz the task is to make inferences, to play what's never been played before.

Gary asks about Kurt's most memorable theatrical experiences, including a recent encounter with Broadway's Something Rotten, starring friend of the show, Brian D'Arcy James.

Kurt then talks about a theatre piece he's been working on that's based on the life of Joe E. Lewis, the singer – and later comedian – who was a fixture at Kurt's long-time home club, the Green Mill. He's working now with his friend Guy Barker, the brilliant composer, arranger, and conductor, to bring this to BBC radio.

They talk about Kurt's love for Chicago – “it's my heart center” – even while he and his family live in New York, and the tremendous reception he got at the Grant Park Music Festival in August, performing in front of 12,000 home town fans in Chicago's Millennium Park on a perfect summer night.

Then they play Chat Pack, each answering the same question pulled randomly from a pack of cards.

The full Booth One podcast (55:04) is here. It's well worth your time. Enjoy!