The Questions

OKeh/Sony | 2018

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves – like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue … Live the questions now. And perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Track Listing

  • A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
  • Music by Stu Mindeman
    Poem by Franz Wright (God’s Silence, 2006)

    Assuming this is the last day of my life
    (which might mean it is almost the first)
    I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

    Prepare for what’s known here as death;
    have no fear of that strange word forever.
    Even I can see there’s nothing there

    to be afraid of: having already been
    to forever I’m unable to recall
    anything that scared me, there, or hurt.

    What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
    was being born. But I got over that
    with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine,

    it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
    but surely no more shocking or prolonged –
    It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

  • American Tune
  • Washing of the Water
  • Music by Jaco Pastorius
    Vocalese Lyric by Kurt Elling and Phil Galdston based on Wayne Shorter’s improvised melody from Weather Report’s 1980 recording, “Night Passage.”
    The lyric adapts the words of the 13th century poet Jelaluddin Balkhi, or Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

    I don’t know / Am I supposed to know?
    What if every road / leads the same way home?
    Pathways bend / and never reach the end of it . . .
    blending / weaving around to begin again.

    And every night the questions come / and ask the moon to rise up
    And fly away from old Brother Sun & shine her light independent-like
    (just for one time)
    Playful calls / cat-scratch star falls of mystery
    Blessing every night dreams that play over darkened scenes –
    Like Northern Lights in the sky / like diamonds in flight.
    Where they lead / is the lonely question of life.

    And even though we strive / to make some sense out of being alive
    We plot & plan & connive / some sense of purpose to derive
    (When really all we think we know might just be one big cosmic swan dive)

    But take heart, you weary traveler / don’t fall apart
    Your final lover now sings straight into your heart
    You’re the sky / Yours, the inner eye
    You / my only love
    You / who question the lessons
    Make your mind up to stay up / & lay up / & wake up with me tonight.

    My love / I have only three things to say

    First: When I was apart from you this world did not exist
    Not this world, nor any other
    The second is that you are whatever I was looking for /
    It was you / always you / without you, love / I smother
    Third is why – why, oh why, oh why did I ever learn to count to three?

    So sleep / You are safe in the star-laden sea

    And so he sings / and everyone else starts to sing with him
    (laughing & dancing & drinking)
    And you are the fruit of this golden vine
    You are holy wine / You are wholly mine
    You are holy / And you’re mine

  • Lonely Town
  • Music by Carla Bley
    Lyric by Kurt Elling incorporating “Winter Stars” by Sara Teasdale (Flame and Shadow, 1920)

    Afloat and all at sea / the stars align in threes
    They’re so fine and free / in blue and in green
    Like leaves on endless trees

    Come climb the sky with me / come hear and come to see
    Melody in perfect symmetry / in love / in light / in key


    I went out at night alone;
    The young blood flowing beyond the sea
    Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
    I bore my sorrow heavily.

    But when I lifted up my head
    From shadows shaken on the snow,
    I saw Orion in the east
    Burn steadily as long ago.

    From windows in my father’s house,
    Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
    I watched Orion as a boy
    Above another city’s lights.

    Years [a]go, dreams [a]go, and youth goes too,
    The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
    All things are changed, save in the east
    The faithful beauty of the stars.

  • I Have Dreamed
  • Music by Joey Calderazzo
    Lyric by Kurt Elling inspired by “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens (Collected Poems, 1923)
    Dedicated to Martha Elling and Dolores Marsalis

    She waits alone / in a chair / in a room
    The echo’d line of years / gone over too soon

    When she would sing beyond the crying
    of the dreamless sea / and her body fluttered free
    And the sea was not a wish / no more was she a wish than me
    Not more than a gesture / the sea

    The songs and waves were not medley’d sound
    For it was she and not the sea we heard / word by word

    The lyric phrases undeterred / though never understood
    It was the waves that she stirred


    But now the sea is just a memr’y / in an silent time
    as the clouds go scudding by
    And the clouds hold only rain
    No strain / re-echos in her sighs
    Two curtain-closed windows / her eyes

    No song exists in her solitude
    Though in her hands she holds a bird
    No poem and no word / configures oceans overheard
    No melody conferred
    It was the waves that she stirred

    But soon her body will flutter free . . .
    And her body will flutter free . . .
    And soon her body will flutter free . . .
    And her body will flutter free . . .


    She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
    The water never formed to mind or voice,
    Like a body wholly body, fluttering
    Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
    Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
    That was not ours although we understood,
    Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

    The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
    The song and water were not medleyed sound
    Even if what she sang was what she heard,
    Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
    It may be that in all her phrases stirred
    The grinding water and the gasping wind;
    But it was she and not the sea we heard.

    For she was the maker of the song she sang.
    The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
    Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
    Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
    It was the spirit that we sought and knew
    That we should ask this often as she sang.

    If it was only the dark voice of the sea
    That rose, or even colored by many waves;
    If it was only the outer voice of sky
    And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
    However clear, it would have been deep air,
    The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
    Repeated in a summer without end
    And sound alone. But it was more than that,
    More even than her voice, and ours, among
    The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
    Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
    On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
    Of sky and sea.

    It was her voice that made
    The sky acutest at its vanishing.
    She measured to the hour its solitude.
    She was the single artificer of the world
    In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
    Whatever self it had, became the self
    That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
    As we beheld her striding there alone,
    Knew that there never was a world for her
    Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

    Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
    Why, when the singing ended and we turned
    Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
    The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
    As the night descended, tilting in the air,
    Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
    Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
    Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

    Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
    The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
    Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
    And of ourselves and of our origins,
    In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

  • Skylark


Kurt Elling: Voice
John McLean: Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Stu Mindeman: Piano, Hammond B-3 Organ
Joey Calderazzo: Piano (4, 6, 9)
Clark Sommers: Bass
Jeff “Tain” Watts: Drums
Branford Marsalis: Saxophones
Marquis Hill: Trumpet, Flugelhorn