Kurt Elling Delivers His Second Message

Kurt Elling Delivers His Second Message

When vocalist Kurt Elling started recording his first album., Close Your Eyes, in 1995, he had no idea that the record would eventually be released on the prestigious Blue Note record label, or that the following year, he’d tour the world and be nominated for a Grammy as the year’s best male jazz vocalist. The swift and sudden rise of the Chicago native is very similar to any number of one hit wonders who streak like a shooting star only to have the flame doused by any varieties of pressure that the entertainment business can apply.

“The pressure, I really think is on my record company,” Elling says of Blue Note’s responsibility to push his new album, The Messenger. “They have to go out and beat the bushes and say ‘now look here everybody who missed it the first time around, you’ve got your chance now, here’s another whole record for you to dig

“Usually you feel pressure if you feel like you can’t do what the gig is, whatever is required of you,” he continues. “But I knew that our second would be stronger than our first because I’ve been shedding a lot and we’ve been playing together more and we’ve had a lot of cool ideas for tunes. Plus we’ve had the experience of the whole first record. I had never made a record before, now I’ve made two. The experience of the first one only helped us to become stronger, so I really didn’t feel like it was pressure in the usual sense, you know, sophomore slump or anything like that.”

Elling’s use of the word “we” is by no means an act of modesty. His records, and indeed his short, blazing career, would not be possible with out the commitment and desire of his band, Trio New. The group consists of pianist Lawrence Hobgood, bassist, Rob Amster and master drummer Paul Wertico. Soon after creating a buzz at Chicago jam sessions earlier this decade, this son of a preacher man and former University of Chicago divinity grad student soon hooked up and honed Elling’s unique blend of vocalese and poetry.

“I’m the king and Lawrence is the President and everybody else has their position in the cabinet. I make the final decisions, but we’re collaborators,” Elling insists. “. Lawrence and I are very blessed, particularly to have found a really beautiful working relationship and the sense to keep working on that in our private lives and on stage. My writing wouldn’t be as strong without Lawrence and Lawrence’s writing wouldn’t have lyrics and he’d be going off in a different direction without me. It’s an ellipse, we sort of circle around each other with our writing and with our musical ideas, and we’re very fortunate to have that..”

It was the unique sound of the Elling/Hobgood compositions that propelled the first album to the top of jazz charts, and critics year-end lists. But on The Messenger, it’s without a doubt, the cover tunes that get special treatment with unique arrangements and guest stars. On April In Paris, it’s rising trumpet star Orbert Davis and on Rod Argent & The Zombies mid-60’s classic The Time Of The Season, it’s the reigning female jazz superstar, Cassandra Wilson. On paper, Kurt Elling, Cassandra Wilson and The Zombies seem to be quite the strange concoction. But on record, it’s an exciting collaboration.

“It was Lawrence’s idea to do that tune, and my manager’s good idea to have Cassandra on there,” Elling confesses. “We wanted to find the tune that would feature Cassandra in a way that was native to her and that would also have a good groove for us to deal with so that everybody would be real comfortable. There’s a lot of new material on this record, but we did some covers in some ways that are exciting to us and that we hope people like.”

And Elling plans to “go after people.” Take his your of New York City for instance. Unlike most acts who may play one room for a two or three week period, Elling’s plan is to spend six weeks in the Big Apple with short stints at jazz clubs as well as alternative and rock clubs..

“We really believe in going after people, because we believe that when we play for them, they understand what” happening, even if they don” listen to jazz. It” not a matter of pandering to somebody” lack of information, it” just about going to where there are and giving to them. If you go to jazz club #3, and that’s where you play, then the people who go to jazz club #3 is going to hear you. But people who go to alternative club #2 aren’t ever going to hear you because they’re never going to jazz club #3.

“I look forward to hitting more alternative clubs where the younger people are going. We get a lot of people who say ‘wow, I’ve never listened to jazz before’, or ‘I don’t like jazz, but I like what you guys are doing.’ We play with a real kind of rock and roll energy and try to get over on people and try to be real with that. If you’re just going to jazz people, it’s like you’re preaching to the choir.”