Kurt Elling’s rich baritone spans four octaves and features technical mastery and emotional depth. declared by The New York Times as “the standout male vocalist of our time”.
Kurt Elling talks to Joanne Kee for Jazz Australia.
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.
JK: One of the standout things to me is that you have a wonderful breadth of projects. You are about to release a recording with Branford Marsalis, you are doing a concert with Lang Lang, you write for Steppenwolf Theatre. What inspires you and what path leads you to these different projects?
KE: Well a lot of times just the invitation is enough perhaps that’s a little naïve on my part, I am not that sure, but when people are kind enough to invite me into their situations as Branford has done and as Lang Lang is doing and as Steppenwolf has asked me to do several times, then if the project is creatively interesting and its challenging and it brings me into perhaps a new atmosphere, then I am anxious to try it. I continue to be curious and interested in finding out what’s possible in life, my life and as a creative person, so I like to take on these projects that come my way whenever I can.
JK: It also seems that you are quite considered and measured in your recordings, not starting until you were twenty seven. What do you look for when deciding on a recording project?
KE: Well there has to be several things usually in place. The material is paramount. In the situation where I am recording with my own band it means that I have to have a fairly firm grip on what’s going to happen in the recording studio. Unlike pop musicians I don’t have the luxury of spending weeks and weeks in the studio. I’ve got to go in with my guys and get the job done in short order, probably just a couple of days.
So the material again, the material again has to interest me. A lot of the times its stuff that I have been working on, writing or collaborating with others on writing and there has to be a through way that makes sense to me where the whole project can stand up. It’s not just about kind of random singles thrown together, there has to be the opportunity to play with the people I want to make music with so those things have to come together at the same time.
JK: It is so easy to release music these days, what advice would you give to younger musicians about recording?
KE: Make sure as much as possible that you’re putting out the best quality music, that you’re putting out the best possible thing that you can create, that you’re working with people that are smarter than you are, who you can learn from and that you are writing as much new material as you can.
JK: In your lecture on Spirituality, Poetry and Jazz which you delivered in 2004, you mention music as a provocation, evocation and expression of the spirit, which of these do you most closely align to your music and is it different for the music you write and the music you adapt?
KE: Oh I don’t think so. Ultimately the music that I adapt or work with collaborators on adapting is music that calls to my emotional life. In the same way that the music that I am attempting to create whole cloth comes from my emotional life. Sometimes there are things in memories, things in experience or things that someone whom I trust will bring to me and it will surprise me, it will shock me or it will comfort me or it will take me back down a path. There’s any number of ways that it can happen, but I try not to attack anything or take on any specific composition without its being an organic part of my emotional life and my desires as an artist.
JK: What can audiences expect to hear in your Melbourne and Sydney gigs?
KE: I’ve got a hot band coming, I am bringing the boys and we’re gonna do it. We’re going to play some things I think that fans that have followed us for a while might want to hear and connect with. Things from our most recent recording, a thing called Passion World which we most recently got to play several cuts from last year with the Melbourne Symphony and we’ll just do it in a stripped down version. I can’t imagine that we would do exactly the same. And I am always writing so there’ll be a lot of new information I’ll be bringing to bear and some surprises for people and there’s always the stuff I haven’t thought of yet.
KURT ELLING, is accompanied by GARY VERSACE (Piano/Organ), CLARK SOMMERS (Bass), ULYSSES OWENS (Drums) and JOHN MCLEAN (Guitar).
Visit Kurt’s website, for a cornucopia of music, lyrics, scripts, news, insights and