One fine day in 1996 we were visiting friends in Chicago. We ate at a Middle Eastern joint in Hyde Park with far too many tables for the cramped space. During the course of the meal, someone dragged his jacket over the head of the Long-Suffering Husband. Then a woman carrying a small child pushed past our table. The child kicked over the LSH’s water glass, emptying it into his plate. That was also the evening I asked my friend whether she had ever read Naked (by New Yorker contributor David Sedaris).
“Usually not,” she replied. “But sometimes, if I’m really in the mood…”
As if to make up for the disastrous restaurant choice, our friends sent us the latest CD by a fellow who happened to live in their apartment building. The disc was entitled This Time It’s Love, and it was prophetic. We immediately fell for Kurt Elling, the prodigiously talented jazz singer, and have followed his career ever since. We caught him in concert in Cleveland when he opened for Dave Brubeck (!). The Long-Suffering Husband shook Kurt’s hand, and I failed to take a picture!
Kurt Elling is one of the most versatile singers I know. He’s a baritone with a range of four octaves. Each album is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Tender ballads, vocalese and scat, new interpretations of classics (“My Foolish Heart,” “The Very Thought of You”), original and unexpected covers (“Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “An American Tune”). As far as I’m concerned, he owns the Sondheim masterpiece “Not While I’m Around,” from Sweeney Todd. It’s on his album Flirting With Twilight.
Kurt has since won a Grammy (Dedicated To You, 2009; he’s been nominated 11 times) and moved to New York, but I’ll always think of him as a Chicago boy. He was born there and grew up in Rockford IL!
Beautiful Man with the Beautiful Voice: Happy 46th Birthday, and thanks for the Beautiful Music.