Kurt Elling: A Jazz Singer Stretches His Songbook

Kurt Elling was Liane Hansen’s guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, February 20, 2011. They were joined by legendary producer Don Was in a conversation about The Gate, including audio clips from Norwegian Wood, Golden Lady, Come Running to Me, and Blue in Green.
Listen to their 11:37 conversation here.

Kurt Elling is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of our time. He’s recorded nine albums, received eight Grammy nominations and won his first Grammy Award last year for a live album of music by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

Now, Elling is taking a few risks. He’s teamed up with music producer Don Was — best known for his work with artists such as Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Al Green — for a new recording called The Gate. The album features reinterpretations of The Beatles, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and more.

“Well, I wanted to work with [Elling] the instant I heard him, is what happened,” Was says. “I was driving around in Los Angeles, and the local station played ‘Not While I’m Around’ from the Flirting With Twilight album. And I pulled over. I just had to wait and find out who that was singing, because it was truly one of the most stunning vocals I had ever heard.”

Was and Elling recently spoke with Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen about making The Gate.

“Yeah, I’ve got to say, I’ve never been in a room with a guy who loves music more than Don,” Elling says. “I mean, he would sit there … listening to, like, whatever number pass I had made on something, and he would have the same beatific look on his face for the 10th, you know, percussion line that was being laid out. And even if you hadn’t quite made it, he’d be like, ‘No, man, you got one more in there. You can make that better. You know what you’re doing.’ Having Don in the room makes you feel like you’re worth it.”

Elling and Was also discussed putting new spins on versions of tunes like The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and the jazz standard “Blue in Green.”