Kurt Elling at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley
5 years ago or so I saw a personal musical hero of mine. I was a student at University of Toledo and it was a teacher’s birthday. Not just any teacher but the infamous vocalese grandfather, Mr. John Hendricks (vocalese: putting words to instrumental music). There’s a great story about Miles Davis and John Hendricks. It involves steak, bitching and showing a man up. Have to tell you about it some other time though. But on John Hendrick’s birthday (I think it was his 80th) a musician I quite admire showed up to celebrate.
Wish I had that picture with me just now.
Instead I have this terrible blurry one from Saturday night’s show at the Jazz Alley.
Kurt Elling. Now, now, he makes my heart thump and boom but not for lust. It isn’t some silly girlie crush over his musical skills. He genuinely moves me to tears when I listen to him sing. He is my modern Johnny Hartman minus the smooth, classic sophisticated sound. Not that Kurt Elling isn’t sophisticated but instead has a different kind of charm: playful honesty. He’s a story-teller, a charmer but it’s nothing untrue, really. He makes a point and makes it with grace. It’s delicious to listen to him and I’m so grateful I was able to go. I heard him speaking on NPR Friday afternoon and immediately made a reservation.
He’s a Great. He’s a Great in the making, just you watch, mark my words.
He’s well spoken, well versed and he’s able to translate it to anyone not familiar with the jazz world.
That always kills me to see it in action. I die every time and I’m happy to be reborn with that kind of experience.
He sang a song about clouds who tried to find God because the parents had lost the way. They were worried about things and such.. but the clouds knew they just had to find God no matter what.. I don’t know this song but I wish I did. It was charming.
Skylark, You are too Beautiful..
The set closed with the song that did it all for me from the beginning: Nature Boy.
Ben, I have you to thank for that momentous introduction. He sang it and I cried. It’s okay because I was prepared. I brought tissues. The quintet provided an encore and away they went, passing us by. I got an eyebrow raise in acknowledgment. But it wasn’t only Kurt who was amazing. He’s surrounded with high-caliber musicians. His long time partner Lawrence Hobgood was there speaking delightfully as always. (Word of note: when I say “speaking” I mean musically). Clark Sommers (bass), John McLean (guitar who you should really check out) and a drummer I can’t find the name for. I would’ve sworn they called him Kobe though it’s a Ulysses who was due to play that night. Perhaps this is a Seattlite? I’ve no idea but it wasn’t Ulysses. Whoever that drummer was, was dynomite.
What makes a great performance is not the star but the entire work of the band and really, truly, they are all-stars and worthy of much recognition on their own but that night I focused on Kurt Elling.
They play on the west coast for a little bit and then head to Istanbul, Turkey next month so if you’re out on this side of the country check ’em out while you can!