Kurt Elling: Don't Measure the Limbs
Elling says his study of philosophy and theology in college comes in handy in his lyric writing, as well as his art in general. "It definitely helps. I always tell students when I do master classesI'll get a question like, 'How do you think of that stuff.' I say, 'Well, how do you think of anything?' You just try to have an interesting life. If a door opens, you step through that door and you experiment and you take risks.' Read. Don't play video games. Engage life. Get everything that you can out of life. It sort of seems like platitudes, but I don't know that there's any other path. You have to give yourself the gift of a more complex human experience. And then you have something to say when you step up."
He notes that people who have heard the music so far like it, and he hopes that bodes well for its acceptability on the market.
"People are really knocked out by this. I think there might be an opening for such a work of art at this time," he said. "Because it does have an emotional depth. It does speak to issues beyond mere romance or feel-good swinging stuffnot that there's anything wrong with that. With the international climate that we have now and the psychic challenges that people are facing, people need to hear a word. They need to hear something that has depth, that is real, that speaks from somebody's heart. And I think that's included in what we've made."
Art need no longer be an account of past sensations. It can become the direct organization of more highly evolved sensations. It is a question of producing ourselves, not things that enslave us.
Not to be lost here (or on any of the five other outstanding CDs) is the association with Hobgood, a pianist of virtuoso abilities and first-rate musicianship. Collaborations such as this are not common anymore, and the way this one has moved along, it could well become one for the ages.
"His thing is essential to the sound," explains Elling. "It's been a real gift, and it will continue to be as long as we are given to each other in this creative way. To have his expertise and his brainpower. It's a gift for both of us, because we give to each other. He has such an intense gift, that sometimes it needs to be simplified a little bit. Like, 'OK, man. The audience is over here.' And I need to be stretched and expanded in ways that make my thing more intelligent and complicated. We continue to meet in a middle ground that is comfortable for both of us and that is mutually productive, then it's definitely worth doing and worth staying with."
Hobgood agrees. "Kurt and I balance each other well because we're really very different in a lot of ways," he told All About Jazz previously. "The specific strengths we bring to the music are very different. If we were good at the same stuff, it would be less of a potential ballooning effect."
"His ability with words, and his knowledge from his study of philosophy and religion, it's an awesome thing that he's got there. His knowledge of poetry. His knowledge of important prose works. He's just an incredibly brilliant, well-read young guy who's able to funnel all that into this talent that he has. We've always had a very special connection in that particular way. I think it's just natural," says the pianist.
The pair met in Chicago, both part of an experimental group of musicians who were on the local jazz scene, and became friends and soon musical partners. The group is vital, and its ability to stay together has led to its propensity for functioning on a high level.
"We've come together in a new way, now that Frank Parker has been in the band two years now, maybe a little bit longer. Rob's been with me the longest. He and I were hitting from the time when I was trying to figure out so much stuff and he was so patient with me. We've been patient with each other. And of course Laurence is mightily gifted. To have him on the team is like having an orchestra at your command. The four of us, we are a band," explains the singer. "I think of it as a band and I applaud them in the way that one applauds other members of a band. We're equals. I'm the band leader and things go like I say, but I make sure that there's enough flexibility and room so that everybody gets to have their say. That's important to me. They're great musicians and they need to be heard."
Nonetheless, Elling said some critics feel that he acts as though the music is about him. That is an inaccuracy, even though the performing arts requires a degree of ego and is folly without strong confidence.