Although I have a range of musical tastes, I am somewhat embarrassed to report that jazz is underrepresented in my concert attendance calendar. Before Sunday, my last two jazz shows were Manhattan Transfer and Janis Siegel, but those were ages ago. While I always seem to enjoy the performances, I just don’t book the tickets. I hope to add a regular act to my live show repertoire: Kurt Elling.
I have seldom heard a male jazz vocalist with the range, variety, and talent of Kurt Elling. I was fortunate to see Elling at my current favorite Chicago venue, City Winery, and I was again lucky to get front-row seats. During the show, he mentioned that he is a Chicago native (along with two members of his band). His band, by the way, was nothing short of phenomenal, including Clark Sommers (bass), John McLean (guitar), and Kendrick Scott (drums).
The performance included Elling’s sweeping vocals, some scat singing, several improvisations by all band members, and some original vocalese performances. Although he didn’t use the term, he described the concept of vocalese through a story he told the audience. Elling explained how he had written lyrics to another jazz artist’s improvised solo, and later met the artist at a Grammy party.
I was particularly impressed by three covers that were performed so originally that even those who knew the songs needed to do a double-take. The covers were Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and a customized version of Journey’s “Lights” with Chicago-specific lyrics (When the lights go down in my city…I want to get back to my city by the lake…).
Finally, special thanks to my long-time friend Norma for introducing me to this performer. Norma and I worked together several years ago when I was a band director in the south suburbs.