Scatting cool cat Elling captures fans’ attention

I usually dislike the term vocal­ist when what people really mean is singer, but in the case of Kurt Elling, who’s riding a critical wave with his latest recording, Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, it fits the man as per­fectly as one of his well-tailored suits.
He is a terrific singer, of course, but his appeal lies as much in his scat­ting and vocalese abilities, his way of reimagining a song, his sheer love of jazz.

And his hipster persona, which would seem campy in many others, fits him as well as, say, snugly as that same suit. A review in the New York Times last week referred to Elling as “the suave jazz-crooning dandy.”

Elling has been recording since 1995 with many fine CDs to his name, but he is getting a lot of ink for Dedicated to You, his homage to the classic 1963 album John Col­trane and Johnny Hartman.

And while jazz is rich in singing — think Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, or a more contemporary Diana Krall — male jazz singers are few and far between.

Elling, therefore, is an anomaly by profession. But he has built an impres­sive body of work, first for the Blue Note label and now on Concord (with Dedicated and 2007’s successful Night­moves).

And he has been able to remain dis­tinctly Elling, no matter what style of music he may be singing, Take Dedi­cated, for example. He demonstrates the finesse of Hartman, the drive of Trane, yet sounds like no one else.

He plays the big halls and travels the world, but his May performance in Winnipeg was his third and he was booked for jazz festivals in Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria this summer. He’s big, but not so big he won’t play smaller markets.

He’s one of the few sort-of boomers to capture the attention of fans. He recon­structs the Great American Songbook, and redoes the Guess Who’s Undun. He really is a singer for his time, even as he pays tribute to the past.