This week, let's take the opportunity to renew our musical acquaintanceship with singer Kurt Elling, who's returning to St. Louis next week to perform Wednesday, February 27 through Saturday, March 2 at Jazz at the Bistro.
Elling, considered by many critics and fans to be the top male jazz singer working today, has been a regular visitor to St. Louis. He was here most recently in November 2011 touring in support of The Gate, his then-current album which featured interpretations of songs associated with Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Joe Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, and other rock and pop musicians.
Since that visit, Elling has continued his efforts to expand the jazz songbook with his latest album 1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project, which came out last year and focuses on pop songs created at the famous NYC address that served as the professional home for many top songwriters in the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, we'll take a look at some of what Elling's been up to since his last trip to St. Louis, starting up top with a song from his new album, his re-imagining of "Come Fly With Me," the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn standard made famous by Frank Sinatra. This performance is from May 2012 at the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris, and features Elling with longtime pianist/musical director Laurence Hobgood, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Quincy Davis.
Down below, there's a performance from the same gig of "I Only Have Eyes For You," also recorded by Elling on 1619 Broadway, followed by two more examples of how Elling reworks diverse material for his own purposes. The spare, bluesy version of Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue" was recorded last year at Elling's old stomping grounds The Green Mill in Chicago, while the country-meets-scat-singing rendition of Cheap Trick's pop hit "I Want You To Want Me" is from one of a series of shows that Elling did with guitarist Charlie Hunter last summer in Europe.
The fifth clip also is from that tour with Hunter, but offers something very different, with Elling singing an unaccompanied version of a Civil War folk song called "He's Gone Away" at the Musicamdo Festival in Camerino, Italy. (A hat-tip to Pamela Espelund for pointing this one out.)
Finally, just for fun, we set the time machine back to November, 1993 for the sixth clip, which shows a then-26-year-old Kurt Elling, a good two years before his major label debut recording, in a gig at the Cook County Jail, of all places. He's fronting the Chicago Jazz All-Stars in a version of Horace Silver's "Doodlin," and it's a fascinating early look that at him that reveals some aspects of his style and stage persona already well-developed and others still being formed.
For more current Elling, you can listen to NPR's archived broadcast of his set at last summer's Newport Jazz Festival here, and the press page on Elling's website has links to several recent news stories about the new album.