Monday, April 13, 2009

Bad idea or brilliant mashup?

Just read an article in the Detroit Free Press about an upcoming Kurt Elling performance there, where Mr. Elling plans to sing selections from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. I'm not a fan of Kurt Elling, although I confess I've never seen him live and his reputation as one of the best these days is based more on his live performances than recordings.
But I'm still wondering if it's a good idea to bother doing something like this -- as much as I love the originals, many of them are standards Hartman could have sung anytime or anywhere. The legend goes Coltrane asked producer Bob Thiele to set up the recording, and when asked, Hartman demurred, feeling he wasn't up to singing with Coltrane.
Imagine trying to keep up with a force like John Coltrane in 1963!
The recordings work because, rather than use all of his power, Coltrane carefully chose his every note to bolster Hartman.
So, I'm wondering, what role does Elling see here? Is he the constrained uber-musician drawing emotion out by carefully avoiding playing to type? Or is he the self-effacing vocalist worried he'll be overshadowed by a powerful horn player?
Or is he is just picking six standards to sing with a featured sax player that coincides with the Coltrane-Hartman playlist?
I hope to have a chance to hear a clip from the performance ... maybe I'll become an Elling fan yet.

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