Kurt Elling Wows Critics with ‘Nightmoves’

In a town known for its long history of great blues, Chicago’s Kurt Elling stands as a beacon of light for jazz. VOA’s Doug Levine brings us up-to-date with this “Windy City” native who was recently named Male Vocalist of the Year in Downbeat magazine’s Critics and Readers polls.
Kurt Elling isn’t your everyday jazz singer. In fact, he’s regarded as more of a “scat” singer, whose command of vocalese has put him in the ranks of such scat pioneers as Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy.

For some, Kurt Elling might be an acquired taste. His unconventional repertoire features the usual jazz standard or two, but its mainstay are his improvised lyrical solos of works by Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Dexter Gordon and others. Kurt’s use of literary references to writers such as Pablo Neruda and Jack Kerouac are instant crowd pleasers.

Despite his steady output, which includes a recent multimedia presentation commissioned by the City of Chicago, Kurt Elling is still considered a late arrival. He didn’t record his first album until age 27, but has been dazzling the critics ever since. Six of his last seven albums have earned Grammy nominations, and he’s topped the Jazz Times Readers poll every year since 2000.

No doubt, Elling’s winning streak will continue with his latest album, Nightmoves. On his first release in almost four years, Elling brings more of his signature scatting and vocalese to songs by Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Michael Franks, and The Guess Who.

When Elling is not on tour he usually performs at his favorite nightclub, the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge on Chicago’s north side. It’s unlikely local fans will get a chance to see him there anytime soon, however, as his out-of-town tour schedule is virtually booked for the next six months. Two tour dates are slated for tributes to jazz great Nancy Wilson, one at Carnegie Hall in June, and the other at the Hollywood Bowl in August.