Renowned for his singular combination of robust swing and poetic insight, two-time Grammy winner Kurt Elling has secured his place among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists.
Over a 25-year career of touring and recording, Elling has won numerous awards and topped the DownBeat polls for 14 consecutive years while touring the world in a variety of contexts, including two performances at the White House.
Last year, Elling released his latest album SuperBlue, a collaboration with Charlie Hunter and members of Butcher Brown. The recording was named one of JAZZ.FM91’s top albums of 2021.
Ahead of his performance at the Flato Markham Theatre, Elling joined us to talk about his work with Charlie Hunter, his favourite moments on and off the stage, and more.
Some people got some good stuff out of lockdown, and I must say, you wasted no time. You and Charlie Hunter started jamming the minute you couldn’t leave your house. How did that come about?
Well, thank God for Instagram, I guess. We were doing 30-second things just to give ourselves something to do. Charlie’s always very good at posting and getting things happening in different grooves. He started to send stuff my way, and it reminded me how much fun we’ve had together in past incarnations. Then it seemed to make natural sense for us to at least try to do a larger project. He had access to our friends from Butcher Brown over in Virginia, so he went over to their place and they masked up and laid a bunch of grooves down. They sent them over to me and it was up to me to figure out the other bits — the melody and whatever.
A true collaboration.
I mean, I’m happy just to be able to make music with stuff that I believe in and put it out with people I love to work with, and to be able to come up to Canada every once in a while and sing for you cats.
Do you have a favourite moment off stage?
Most of that happens right after a really good gig. You come backstage and you’re there with your pals in the band and everybody knows that it happened, you know you’ve fed the audience and you know that they’re happy about it, and maybe there’s a really good bottle of wine back there to help you finish off the evening.
What about moments on stage, or a favourite venue?
We’ve been playing a lot of venues, I’ll tell you that. We got to play Umbria again this summer [and] that was a thrill. We’re going back to London again in the fall and we’re going to play the Jazz Cafe, and I’ll be back with Guy Barker and the big orchestra at the Barbican. So there’s lots of stuff that has been happening and will be happening.
Your Christmas record is the best one that’s been made in the last 20 years. It’s outstanding. Are you going to be doing any Christmas shows this season?
There will be a handful of them, and we might try to put a larger, symphonic arrangement of some of those songs together.
The Flato Markham Theatre booked you before the pandemic, and now they’re getting SuperBlue.
That’s right. They booked a completely different show. Now we get to bring the fresh material up there. Thanks for being patient, everybody.
I know you’ve really inspired Jocelyn Barth, Lorie Cullen, John Finley and Mary Margaret O’Hara. These are all people you’ve gone up to and said something kind after a song.
Oh nice. There’s a lot of great singers up there, so they deserve that kind of praise.
This interview has been edited and condensed.