Jazzwise: Come Running to Me

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Kurt Elling follows up his wondrous John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman-inspired album Dedicated To You with a soul and rock songbook-flavoured release titled The Gate produced by famed rock producer Don Was. Peter Quinn talks to Kurt about the new challenges he faced on making the album.

It’s one of the great what-ifs of jazz. Imagine, for a second, that in 1992 Kurt Elling hadn’t ended up a language credit shy of gaining a Masters in Philosophy of Religion from the University of Chicago. The picture might have looked something like this (cue ripple dissolve): a book-lined study, an anglepoise lamp sitting on top of a sturdy mahogany desk, and Professor Kurt Elling’s tutorial on ‘Spinoza and the Question of Being’ is in full swing. Happily, for us, fate decreed that Elling’s path did not lead down the road to academe. Instead, he’s The Greatest Living Male Jazz Vocalist. Funny how things work out.

And yet, interviewing Elling in a central London hotel, there is something of the academic about him. Perhaps it’s the way the singer – dressed in jeans, smart shirt and sporting a chunky, rather rakish-looking silver bracelet – carefully weighs each question before offering an always considered and eloquently expressed response. As Don Was, the producer on Elling’s new release The Gate, tells me: “At any given time for this guy, he’s the most intelligent cat in the room.” But don’t take Don’s word for it, just listen to the work: lyrics adapted from Rilke, quotes from Proust, ‘My Foolish Heart’ interpolated with St. John of the Cross. And who else would think to marry a little-known Duke Ellington piece with the words of a thirteenth century Sufi mystic? Check out ‘I Like The Sunrise’ on Nightmoves and hear why Kurt Elling is, to use his own parlance, a heavy cat.

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This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #150 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE CD…

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Related sidebar features from Jazzwise, March 2011:

Living Organism: Don Was on working with Kurt Elling
Spirits from Above: Jon Hendricks on Kurt Elling