11 Jul Watch a Video of Kurt Elling – The Best Jazz Vocalist
Kurt Elling is my (Charissa’s) favorite jazz vocalist of all time (sorry Ella). I first saw him live 7 years ago at the Green Mill Jazz Club in Chicago, where he got his start. He performed in LA in 2012 and gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, with a small 3-piece ensemble of high-end musicians who were so tight and advanced that it felt like a whole new level of music.
Miamiartzine.com has a great description of his voice. “Elling has a weapon in his throat – his baritone voice covers over half the notes on the piano, often moving from basement to attic in the same breath. He uses his remarkable engine to offer up his original songs as well as take familiar tunes, turn them inside out, repackage them, and deliver them as new fare. He accomplishes his signature sound by reassigning notes, twisting, bending, and kicking out the borders of rhythm, phrasing and dynamics, at times manipulating a hand mike for piano-forte and fading echo effects. His invention gives new meaning to old tunes.”
Kurt has 10 albums ranging from traditional jazz classics, to well-known pop songs jazzed up (the theme of his 2011 album, The Gate). He speckles his albums here and there with a few cool out-there pieces that use spoken-word poetry. But the thing that is consistent across all albums is a gorgeous sound mix that highlights the velvety textures in his voice and the crisp drum beats beneath it.
One of my favorite things about Kurt Elling is that he actually scats! His versions of jazz classics start out straight forward, and then blossom into a wide spectrum of vocal colors with runs and trills moving through highs and lows and twisting around the expert musicians accompanying him. The music is full of creative, innovative work that is inspiring.
Vocalists like Kurt Elling help us set the bar for what our voices are capable of, and how we can use them.