Review: Kurt Elling Sings The Heroes, with special guests James Morrison & Troy Roberts, at Birdland

Kurt Elling’s incredible talent and his impressive drive to develop his art are of the very same quality as many of the performers he paid tribute to in his show: Frank Sinatra; Oscar Brown, Jr.; Eddie Jefferson. Elling has a knack for digging up gems from jazz performers of yesteryear, and being both a seasoned performer and a man who understands the depth and feel of his wonderful voice, he delivered note after note with brilliance beyond compare. Easily, he delivers a virtuoso jazz performance and is among the very best who have graced Birdland. He deserves his reputation and his sold-out audience.
Each and every song he performed had a fresh vibe. The noteworthy aspects were that he held high notes, introduced his cabaret show as having a lighter tone, and easily referenced the historical arrangements and backgrounds of his songs with clear confidence. Opening with Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” (Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen), he gripped the audience. I especially loved his selection of Eddie Jefferson’s “Benny’s from Heaven,” a classic spoof on “Pennies from Heaven” (Arthur Johnson/Johnny Burke) making reference to a baby born out of wedlock named, Benny, who a wife tells the father is “from heaven.” Elling crooned, “I’ve asked the neighbors that come around. No one seems to remember Benny coming down.”

His phenomenal band included the incomparable trumpeter James Morrison, with Troy Roberts (tenor sax), Stu Mindeman (piano), Clark Sommers (bass), and Ulysses Owens (drums). Most notable about this group of professionals were their exceptional solos that were both concise and full of dazzling trills and crescendos. Together with Elling’s powerful execution, lyrics such as “But while we were dancing, I think you should know, I was telling her about you” (“I Was Telling Her About You,” Don George/Moose Charlap) became deeply sentimental. If I heard correctly, Elling performed around the world for 180 nights last year, so, in 2019, chances are you’ll get to see him.