The Messenger

Blue Note Records | 1997

His second Blue Note recording cemented Elling’s critical reputation (along with that of Hobgood) as a producer, arranger, and composer. Re-workings of the standards “Nature Boy” and “April in Paris” set the stage for a suite of Elling/Hobgood originals and more vocalese. Said the Chicago Sun-Times, “More than any mainstream singer to come along in recent times, Elling thrives on free expression … but as much of a wild streak as all this suggests, Elling imparts a sense of being in complete control of his destiny.”

Track Listing

  • Nature Boy
  • April In Paris
  • Music by Laurence Hobgood
    Lyric by Kurt Elling

    There is something within you.
    There is something in everything that is:
    Unbelievable beauty, flowing from deep inside.
    Don’t be shocked or surprised if I lift your disguise.
    Realize that I can see it in all things, all, but especially you.

    There is something we carry,
    Like a rhythm that tells us who we are.
    It’s the rhythm of living. Hear, and we’ll come to see
    who we can really be-fore Time erases time.
    It’s sublime. And I can see it in all things, all, but especially you.

    The time is upon us to lose our indifference.
    For Time isn’t holding us anywhere. I declare:
    Life gives savoir faire.
    Clean the windows of your inner star
    And see things as they are:
    An infinity of light like a torch in the night.
    For the Sun and the Moon and the Stars
    Are living within you.
    You are shining in everything that is.

    Here’s what I see in your eyes right now:
    Ten thousand lives over many years like leaves on the vine of this morning’s glory,
    The determination of years coming to fruition
    In the ever-present now of your life, unfolding now in the flowering of days.
    The constellation of stars in the sky are like a fugue of light in velvet hands.
    The melody never ends, echoing again and again.
    Nearer still sounds a melody leading through darkened rooms,
    Playing like the Sun on the water; like its reflection in your downcast eyes.
    When will you come to see you like I do?
    And know you like I do? And hear you like I do?
    And love you like I do?

  • The Dance
  • Music by Laurence Hobgood
    Lyric by Kurt Elling

    Yesternight heard the song of the Blackbird
    playing bittersweet-ness through the bell of a shimmering horn
    in hosts of hundred-colored tones.

    In the tones you could hear sacred stories.
    You could hear Mr. Davis was smiling his ironic smile at life.

    Feeling no shame, though feeling comes with fear,
    and fear mingles with trust in what may be a dream.

    But still, it seemed to him he’d traveled down the path
    of hope and loss and work and pain
    and all that’s straining
    to become itself in time for a breath
    (before the death of sound).

    Taking hold of a gift from the gods,
    measuring odds,
    making love to a sound with a voice of its own.
    May the tone never end.


  • Endless
  • Music by Donald Byrd
    Solo by Dexter Gordon
    Vocalese lyric by Kurt Elling based on Dexter Gordon’s improvised melody on “Tanya” from the 1964 recording One Flight Up

    Hips swayin’ to the beat (lip smakin’, honey-sweet).
    Magnolias in the street – dust under Tanya’s feet.

    Dig with me this chick lording every clique, name of Tanya Jean.
    Even in the thick she’ll never miss a trick. She’s a royal queen.
    Swingin’ down the block, stoppin’ every clock, wiggin’ every scene –
    She’s got a flock (a man in every dock) diggin’ Tanya Jean.

    But if she ever would think, for once, she would see that she has been a dunce –
    never digging her brains and her beauty are more than the usual front.

    She could be swinging ad libitum ‘stead of just acting like she was dumb.
    (Up and running to run all the savages’s no more than just a stunt.

    “Come dancing with me in a little dream, Tanya Jean,” said Prophet-Man-With-One-Hand-Put-Away. “And we will seek together the stolen vision (vision that was hidden by lovers gone and poets buried). Time, swing over: gonging and banging late-in-life clock assembling a three-ring, peddling a new thing. Telling time, telling tales, telling sights, filling pails with alabaster springing. Here’s your life upon a plate regarding its fate. Senility’s rumored.”

    “How can you eat that,” asks the girl, with a smirk. “Don’t you see how every day, come what may, it’s growing – you jerk, you. And thirty centuries of sleeping won’t make a dent in giving the time that it’s needing. Flipping to appendices, Demosthenes, won’t bring about the stumbling of a Beast with weaker knees. This I tell you. So dig it.”

    “Don’t wig it. Come along with me and envision the vision. Maybe then, you will feel. Like the rumbling of a train on tracks a hundred miles away, you can hear pretty clear – like the echoes of the footfalls of childhood in rooms – like a fire, sire, like a pyre; a singing out of desire. Dark angelic bodies in a flying circus come bombing over Flander’s Fields.

    “And what if darkened drummers who can play just like Elvin never escape the mandibles of their mothers, keeping silence when screaming upwards from deep within his inner voice – crying into the vortex of night, subtle terrors make writing a scrawling of dying-wish notes? Time to make another adversary list up to the sky as you travel by.

    “Suddenly bidding is asking. And then it’s wishing. You can’t stretch your arms out like a lord enfolding thousand stars. So dig it. And lonliness is rolling over levees like a suicidal tidal surge – upending illusiories, strong, of living as defensive. Meanwhile, intimacy calls us into dangers with a siren song of loving long in luxury-to-be (secret, unnameable surging of love into what must always be). It’s spilling over infinity to become behemoth: everything, everywhere, everyone, everytime. The kingdom comes from ancient, howling cries of MotherGods.

    “Screaming across the open plains of nothingness comes everything that might have been, like great comets blasting through every dark sky. So what if L.T. Dexter’s swinging has rarified Mid-Atlantic sounds of Jazz in silk scarves and all fall-colored Paris nights? And Charlie Parker’s with him, blowing on his over-grown pitoodle stick and reaching through the thicker places in our heads (intelligence was never, ever, surely, this hard to find). Dig what I’m saying: just because we’ll never know The Secret doesn’t mean that we should find that we have sold ourselves, like Joseph, into bondage again – time and again, until the end.

    “My friend, take your practiced powers and stretch them across the void until everything living has a chance to ponder every contradiction. That might be everyone’s doable mission. Just like when Herbie’s playing piano – then you can hear it, ’cause he can play it. You don’t forget it ’cause Herbie said it when he spoke like a child playing jacks on the floor of a kitchen. And Hermann Hesse said it: ‘You’ll search for truth among the planets and never find a truer voice than that voice which is calling it out to you – calling you to at least become a human. Instead of being confounded by being. Instead of surfing in the dirt like a serpent, go dance in the whirlwind.’ For those who have heard it, God becomes a silence, huge and glowing, flowing from the deepest inner places inside of your heart.

    “It’s saying, ‘Go moaning and groaning, alone-ing. Go rolling on the breast of earth. Report you truly all the lives you see there, like a song growing golden-ripe, like the wheat. Take it! Take this cup I’m passing to you. Drink it. Think it way down into the entrails of your thinking. What moves in secret is not ever nothing. If gateways of seeing were opened, then we could see that everything is just as it always is; infinitely infinite.’

    “But now, you see? Time is growing short for me.”

    Pow! Poof. The dreaming was over. But Prophet-Man had put mind into motion: Tanya Jean was then, hereafter seen to be the queen of what we later called the scene in which a body haverim careen like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Wow.

  • It's Just A Thing
  • Ginger Bread Boy
  • Prelude To A Kiss
  • The Time Of The Season
  • Music by Ed Petersen
    Lyric by Kurt Elling

    See both sides clearly
    Understand who you are / for once / really, truly see me
    Loose your fear / Master the art / Know the secret deep within your heart
    Find the strength of your conviction / Bridge the contradiction


Kurt Elling: Voice
Edward Petersen: Tenor Saxophone (6 & 12)
Eddie Johnson: Tenor Saxophone (10)
Orbert Davis: Trumpet (2), Flugelhorn (5)
Dave Onderdonk: Guitar (2, 4 & 11)
Laurence Hobgood: Piano & Synthesizer
Eric Hochberg: Acoustic Bass (7, 8 & 11)
Rob Amster: Acoustic Bass (1-5, 9, 10 & 12) Electric Bass (7)
Paul Wertico: Drums (1-5, 7-9 & 11) Percussion (2 & 11)