The jazz singer Kurt Elling played in Berlin a few nights ago at the relatively small club Quasimodo. I knew about the concert, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go because it started late and it was way across town, blah blah blah, excuses excuses. Luckily it took place on the same night as my jazz class, otherwise I probably would have been too lazy in the end. I talked one of the other singers into going over there to see if we could get a last minute ticket at the door. We got one of only nine they had left.
And thank god we did, because he was truly amazing.
I’d heard Kurt Elling’s music before of course, as probably anyone singing jazz these days has. But seeing him live is an entirely different experience. His command and presence was so immediate and intense; he could switch instantly between a joyful, exuberant piece to a heart-wrenching ballad. A lot of the stuff he sang was from his new album where he writes songs that reflect what’s going on in the US today, which I really respected. I also love his version of Dylan’s Hard Rain Falling.
His technique is beyond amazing. A lot of his placement is in a brassy, powerful belt, but he also goes into a softer chest voice and even an incredible falsetto, all with the greatest ease. As an ex-opera chick, I kept thinking what a great Figaro he would have made if he had gone the classical route. Something about his energy even reminded me of Hermann Prey from the movie verison of the Marriage of Figaro from the 70s.
By the way, if you don’t like and/or know nothing about opera (like most people) watch this movie verison with English subtitles here. I adore both Prey and Fischer-Dieskau. Mirella Freni was a great Susanne and Kiri Te Kanawa the best Countess ever. The story is hilarious, provocative, and at times even moving. The 4th act drags on a bit, but other than that, it’s a great place to start with opera. (Whatever you do, DON’T start with Wagner.)
Anyway, as I’ve written on this blog before, music (and particularly singing) and writing are my two great loves in life, the only difference being that I’m much more ambitious when it comes to writing. I love to perform and need to have music be an active part of my life—and it is—but I’m fine with keeping it at a small but still dedicated level. But writing? With writing, I’m on fire. I want to go all the way, to the very top, whatever the very top is. Sometimes I ask myself why this is. What will I do if I never go anywhere, as I’ve managed to do quite successfully for the past fifteen odd years? Well, folks, that would suck. But I’d still rather try than not try at all.
And maybe I need to pour more into the singing. Maybe I’m less ambitious there because I’m also afraid. If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that you should go where the fear is.
I found this quote from Kurt Elling about what it is to be a jazz singer:
A jazz singer is somebody who devotes their life
to an art form that demands a spirit-at least,
a spirit-of improvisation and risk taking
Fuck, yes. I love that. I’d say the same is true for writing. And both are about storytelling. Both are about engaging with other people, with strangers, and making them feel things that they feel but don’t usually have the space for, to go together through a little experience, a meditation of sorts, on this crazy thing called being human.
Oh dear, Rebeccah’s getting deep. 😉
Seriously though, I love them both so much and I feel blessed that I have two disciplines to pour myself into, ones where I will never stop learning and never arrive, just advance further down the path and (hopefully) take others with me along the way.
But enough about me. Let’s get back to Kurt. I recorded two videos and posted them on YouTube. Here they are (and watch them soon, because maybe YouTube will take them down because of licensing or something).
And here’s an amazing version he did of Nature Boy with a full orchestra. Usually, when middle-aged male singers start doing the orchestra stuff, I think, oh, help me god…
But that’s definitely not the case here.