Food, wine, travel, music
A QUIET CHAT WITH KURT ELLING ROZ CROWLEY
Irish Examiner May 2013
Pic Roz Crowley
Tired from a chest infection in his hotel room in Norway, Kurt Elling was a trooper and a gentleman on the ‘phone ten days ahead his performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin on Tuesday (21 May). It’s a grueling tour of many consecutive nights in the Netherlands, Denmark and Slovenia, before another gig in the US on 29th. “I’m not worried about this infection hanging on. I was built to sing physiologically, but the fatigue hasn’t helped the challenge of fighting this virus. I’ll cope.”
The Dublin concert will be a special one, not just with the full RTE Concert Orchestra, but with most of his band. “I wasn’t going to have my band with me for the Dublin concert, just my collaborator Laurence Hobgood [pianist], but John McClean [guitarist] was coming home on a ‘father and son’ visit to Ireland, so I invited him to join us, then the bass player Clark Summers said he’d like to come too.”
Two visits to Cork Jazz festival in 2006 and 2009 captured the hearts and souls of Irish music lovers who appreciate Elling’s vocal gymnastics with their soft, sensitive landings. This visit to Dublin will be his first time in Ireland with a full orchestra led by Brian Byrne. “You never quite know what to expect with an orchestra, but I am often astonished at their calibre, stylistically. It’s not easy for an orchestra to be flexible, but I really have been knocked out by them.”
He likes to take time out to write, but his schedule doesn’t look like there is much time for it. “I’m just back from a 10 day break, which was longer than I’ve had for a while”. He can write on the hoof, but doesn’t like it. “I’m trying to get off the treadmill of write, record, tour, write, record, tour, trying to get to a place where like a rotisserie, people would come to me.” Recordings would have done that in the past, but sales are not what they used to be. He is philosophical: “I have rich man’s problems. I’m not in Syria. I can’t say I have problems.”
Always testing himself, he takes risks on stage with unrehearsed scats and doesn’t worry they won’t work. For him it’s about keeping himself fresh and excited and pushing boundaries musically, but with a philosophy of creativity and a deep intellectual awareness that is innate and serious. Never formally trained, he feels no constraints, and presents his music as something that can be understood by those who appreciate a beautiful melody, but at another level with his quirky interpretations others can enjoy subtle jokes. Not laugh out louds jokes, they are more clever than that, and always beautiful.
His latest album 1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project includes interpretations of pop songs by composers such as Paul Simon (The American Tune) and Carole King whose ‘So Far Away’ captured hearts at live concerts and appears on the album. It touched those separated, as Elling often is, from their families. A tribute to New York where he has lived since 2008, the Brill building was key in the development of the careers of songwriters such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Duke Ellington worked in rented space there, along with Nat ‘King’ Cole. In Dublin Elling is likely to perform Ellington’s ‘Tutti For Cootie’, written to showcase his trumpeter Cootie Williams’ talents.
Whatever happens in NCH on Tuesday, music lovers will hear Elling’s inimitable style, exciting rhythms and harmonies and his flattering stamp of approval of tunes we know and might have forgotten for a while. Velvet personified.