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Singing in tongues: Kurt Elling scats his way into Rochester

Kurt Elling, Rochester, NY, Oct. 19, 2008I'm going to echo Jeff Spevak in the D&C this morning in a couple of ways.  For those of you that missed it (and that will figure later), Kurt Elling's Dedicated to You appearance last night at the Eastman Theatre, in a benefit for the Commencement Park, was as Jeff put it "jazz as good as it gets." The seven hundred souls who came to hear this Grammy-nominated singer were treated to a wonderful hour-and-a-half or so of some of the tunes from Elling's new album Night Moves, earlier discs, and to arrangements of standards that Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane recorded and performed together 45 years ago.

Standing in Coltrane's shoes for the evening was the Grammy-winning saxophonist Ernie Watts, who played some wonderful solos and almost "traded fours" with Elling at times. Behind them was the Laurence Hobgood Trio, although with new members in addition to Hobgood, who has been working with Kurt since the beginning. Joining the trio was Ulysses S. Owens, the incredible talented, young drummer who seems to have made Rochester his second home with multiple appearances at Exodus to Jazz and the RIJF, and Clark Summers working the bass (sorry, Jeff, Rob Amster no longer plays with them). From the bop of Tight from the new Concord disc Nightmoves, to the lesson in vocalese Those Clouds Are Heavy, You Dig from his early recording Close Your Eyes, to a haunting retelling of Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life at the close of the concert, Elling alternately filled that large space with his deep, rich baritone and the squeeks and trills of a trumpet or sax sounds. His instrument is truly amazing. Elling's musical partner Hobgood alternated from flights of fancy to bringing home the hard swing at a turn. As we've heard before, Ulysses Owens' drumming was tight and nuanced. He's clearly loving working with this group and it shows. At one point, Elling went around to each member of the rhythm section and told them to cut free for awhile.  He moved out of the way and leaned on the end of the long Steinway as his band cut loose and played off each other for awhile before Hobgood swung them back into the song. He just leaned back and soaked it up. So did we (and ate it up too).Kurt Elling, Rochester, NY, Oct. 19, 2008

The turnout for the concert, estimated in Spevak's column to be 700, even after a 1/2 drop in ticket prices and quite a lot of advertising and mentions in a number of media outlets (including this one), may be an effect of the current state of the economy or just mean that those who love hitting Gibbs Street in June can't be bothered with coming out for a great night of jazz, pretty cheap, for a good cause on Sunday in October. Fair weather jazz fans?  Perhaps. But I think it's more complicated. The venues and promoters that bring jazz music to this town and the artists are also feeling the pinch and seeing a decline in their audiences. Some venues are no longer presenting jazz; some artists are leaving town to try their luck elsewhere. I know my listings are getting lighter (and it's not just the approach of winter). I'm preaching to the choir here, I know, so I'll quit preaching.

I encourage you to leave comments about the concert if you were lucky enough to see it, or if you have any ideas on how to get more people out to hear live jazz around town.

Photo Credits: Garry Geer, Geer Photography

This post was originally published on JazzRochester.



I'm not a big fan of male "jazz vocalists" at least not until Sunday nite. All the adjectives I can think of are so tired and hackneyed that I will only say that I would rank him right up there with Ella and forget about gender for a while.....the man can wail!@(*&%%^&%$ ***ing awesome! It was worth the 45 minute walk downtown and the 45 minutes home to hear that and to get a chance to chat with Hobgood (who btw is no slouch either!! -- classically trained and wonderful improvisor -- damn Sam how come we can't have a steady diet of this and how come they aren't on the Eastman billing at RIJF instead of some tired hack, and I'm NOT referring to D Brubeck, either).

For a town that SHOULD be out in force, with the Eastman SOLD OUT for this sort of event!!!! (Where were all you country club wonks?) It's lip service to the Wilson. Even it you don't particularly like jazz you missed a spectacular evening of singing that would definitely NOT have had you snoozing in the seat.

PH you done good and need to just keep em coming!!

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