Born: November 2, 1967 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Grammy winner Kurt Elling is among the world's foremost jazz vocalists. He has won every DownBeat Critics Poll for the last fourteen years and has been named Male Singer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association eight times in that same span. Every one of Elling's ten albums has been nominated for a Grammy.
Elling's rich baritone spans four octaves and features both astonishing technical mastery and emotional depth. His repertoire includes original compositions and modern interpretations of standards, all of which are springboards for inspired improvisation, scatting, spoken word, and poetry.
The New York Times declared, Elling is the standout male vocalist of our time. The Washington Post added, Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz.
Elling was the Artist-in-Residence for the Singapore and Monterey Jazz Festivals. He has also written multi-disciplinary works for The Steppenwolf Theatre and the City of Chicago. The Obama Administration's first state dinner featured Elling in a command performance.
Elling is a renowned artist of vocalese - the writing and performing of words over recorded improvised jazz solos. The natural heir to jazz pioneers Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure and Jon Hendricks, Elling has set his own lyrics to the improvised solos of Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny.
He often incorporates images and references from writers such as Rilke, Rumi, Neruda and Proust into his work. The late poet and Bollingen Prize winner Robert Creeley wrote, Kurt Elling takes us into a world of sacred particulars. His words are informed by a powerful poetic spirit. Said Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, In Kurt Elling's art, the voice of jazz gives a new spiritual presence to the ancient, sweet and powerful bond between poetry and music.
Kurt Elling has toured vigorously throughout his career, thrilling audiences throughout the world. In that time he has led his own ensemble and has collaborated with many of the world's finest orchestras.
Elling's latest recording1619 Broadway - The Brill Building Project, is Elling's much-anticipated new recording which honors and celebrates the locale that the London Telegraph called the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world.
Elling's interpretations and signature arrangements of songs like On Broadway, A House Is Not A Home and So Far Away make this record a must-have for those in search of current great singing. Even for the ceaselessly inventive Elling, 1619 Broadway is another unexpected step, and one guaranteed to further solidify his reputation for thrilling innovation and superb craftsmanship.
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: Dedicated to You
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: 1619 Broadway — The Brill Building Project
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: The Gate
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: Nightmoves
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: Man in the Air
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: Flirting With Twilight
- Best Jazz Vocal Album: Live in Chicago
- Best Jazz Vocal Performance: This Time It's Love
- Best Jazz Vocal Performance: The Messenger
- Best Jazz Vocal Performance: Close Your Eyes
- Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist "Dedicated to You" from Dedicated to You (Arrangement by Laurence Hobgood)
- Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist "Easy Living" from Flirting With Twilight (Arrangement by Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood)
- Critics Poll Winner: Male Vocalist of the Year — 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
- Critics Poll Winner: Talent Deserving Wider Recognition — 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
- Readers Poll Winner: Male Vocalist of the Year — 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013
- Readers' Poll: Male Vocalist of the Year — 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012
- Readers' Poll: Best New Release — 2012: 1619 Broadway — The Brill Building Project
- Male Singer of the Year — 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
- Vocalist of the Year — 2006
- Record of the Year: The Gate — 2011
- International Jazz Artist of the Year — 2013
- Award of the Year — 2013
- International category — 2012
- Jazz Ambassador — 2012
- International Male Singer of the Year: Kurt Elling, The Gate — 2012
- Jazz Vocal: Kurt Elling, The Gate — 2011
- Prix Billie Holiday: The Messenger
- Outstanding Jazz Vocalist in a Major Engagement — 2010
- Distinguished Musician — Inducted in 2011
- Jazz Record of the Year — 1997
- Hall Of Fame Induction — 2000
- A Chicagoan of The Year (Arts) — 1995
- Inductee: 40 under 40 (Who Make a Difference in Chicago Business) — 1998
Kurt Elling's recording career began at age 27 with the release of “Close Your Eyes.” Nine of the thirteen songs on the album were part of a nine-selection demo that was accomplished enough to secure a recording contract with Blue Note. Co-produced by Elling and his collaborator pianist Laurence Hobgood, the album featured the first incarnation of the Kurt Elling Quartet and introduced many signature aspects of the singer's sound: inspired vocalese versions of the jazz compositions and improvised solos ("Dolores Dream", "Those Clouds are Heavy, You Dig", "Hurricane"), the melding of poetry and music, original compositions, and an emotional range from frenetic up- tempo to tender ballads. "Close Your Eyes" secured Elling his first GRAMMY nomination.
The Messenger, 1997 (Blue Note)
The second Blue Note recording, “The Messenger,” began to cement Elling's critical reputation (along with that of collaborator Laurence Hobgood) as a producer, arranger, and composer. Daring re-workings of standards "Nature Boy" and "April in Paris" set the stage for a suite of Elling/Hobgood originals and extended vocalese ("Tanya Jean" "Gingerbread Boy"). Said the Chicago Sun- Times, “More than any mainstream singer to come along in recent times, [Elling] thrives on free expression ... But as much of a wild streak as all this suggests ... Elling imparts a sense of being in complete control of his destiny.”(4/97) In addressing Elling’s writing for this record, The Boston Globe said, “the lyrics (Elling) has written to Dexter Gordon’s ten minute ‘Tanya’ solo are to most attempts at vocalese what an epic poem is to a sonnet.” (5/97)
This Time It's Love, 1998 (Blue Note)
Elling’s third recording for Blue Note, "This Time It's Love" was a polished and romantic outing. Opening with a treatment of "My Foolish Heart” that has become a staple of Elling's live shows, the album addresses the theme of love with hip arrangements of jazz standards, new compositions by the Elling/Hobgood team, and more of Elling’s vocalese expansions. DownBeat gave the recording four and-a half stars and said, “Again, the singer reveals his grand gift for vocalese lyrics, “ calling his lyric to Freddie Hubbard’s classic ‘Delphia’ solo “a superb love paean”. (5/99) The record won Elling a third consecutive GRAMMY nomination.
Live in Chicago, 2000 (Blue Note)
The next release for Blue Note was recorded live at Chicago’s storied Green Mill Lounge, where Elling still plays every week he’s not touring. Straight from the heart, and comprised largely of previously unrecorded material, the album features Elling singing with jazz great Jon Hendricks and blowing with Chicago tenor greats Von Freeman, Ed Petersen, and Eddie Johnson. Here again Elling is heard pushing the boundaries of vocalese on his tour-de- force lyric for Wayne Shorter’s signature composition, “Night Dreamer.” “This CD reflects Elling’s utterly creative genius, tearing down conventional perceptions,” wrote the Jazz Educators Journal. (Jan/00) “An on location recording of Kurt Elling is absolutely the way to go to capture higher measures of his literal uniqueness as a nouveau phenomenal male jazz vocalist. A ‘live’ session truly unveils the spontaneous, sizzling charges and poetic imagination he develops in the venue, promptly pulling in the audience close-up with an intensity that is both tender and fierce...”(3/00) The GRAMMY nomination for “Live in Chicago” marked Elling’s fourth consecutive nomination.
Flirting with Twilight, 2001 (Blue Note)
Elling’s fifth Blue Note recording, “Flirting With Twilight,” presented a collection of timeless songs set against spare, beautiful horn arrangements and featuring an all- star rhythm section of collaborator Laurence Hobgood on piano, bassist Marc Johnson (Bill Evans, Steps Ahead, Bill Frisell), and drummer Peter Erskine (Weather Report, John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine Trio). Reviewers were stunned. DownBeat wrote that “ . . . nothing ... prepared me for Elling’s accomplishment on ‘Flirting With Twilight’, a cohesive, highly personalized exploration of 12 demanding love songs ... which he addresses with the legato grace of a master ballroom dancer.” (Dec/01) JazzTimes, “With ‘Flirting With Twilight’ ... Kurt Elling continues his triumphant reign as the thinking man’s vocalist.” (Dec/01).
Man in the Air, 2003 (Blue Note)
For his sixth Blue Note record, “Man In The Air,” Elling wrote and performed lyrics for nine jazz compositions that might be considered classics of the genre. Jazz compositions and solos from writers as diverse as Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Bobby Watson, and Joe Zawinul all receive the Elling treatment. Including an epic 7-minute vocalese of Resolution, the second movement on John Coltrane's album, A Love Supreme, the album is Elling's crowning achievement to date as a writer of vocalese. Writes biographer Lara Perigrinelli, "The success of these pieces tends to hinge on vocal control, sonic atmosphere, and use of space. Their lyrics follow suit. Elling wrestles with themes of love, life, loss, and the indefatigable human spirit in all of their complexities without allowing himself to indulge in clichés or platitudes.” (May/03) The album featured intelligent, swinging performances from guest artist Stefon Harris and from Elling collaborator Laurence Hobgood.
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