Kurt Elling is an American jazz vocalist, composer, lyricist and vocalese performer from Chicago.
Elling first became interested in music through his father, who was Kapellmeister at a Lutheran church.
Growing up, Elling sang in choirs and played various musical instruments, but wasn’t exposed to jazz until he attended Gustavus Adolphus College. Elling enrolled in graduate school at the University of Chicago Divinity School, but left school one credit short of a master’s degree to pursue a career as a jazz vocalist.
Elling began to perform around Chicago, scat singing and improvising his own lyrics. He recorded a demo in the early 1990s and was signed by Blue Note Records, releasing a total of seven albums with the label.
He has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning Best Vocal Jazz Album for Dedicated to You (2009) on the Concord Jazz label. Elling often leads the Down Beat critics poll, and he was awarded the Prix Billie Holiday from the Académie du Jazz.
Since 1995, Elling has collaborated with pianist, composer, and arranger Laurence Hobgood, leading a quartet that regularly tours the world.
An Elling show can contain ranting beat poetry, dramatic and poignant readings of Rilke, and hard-swinging scat.
Elling has performed and recorded with Oscar Brown, Jr., Billy Corgan, Buddy Guy, Jon Hendricks, Charlie Hunter, and Randy Bachman.
His 2009 album, “Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman,” a tribute to the 1963 recording “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman,” is widely recognized as one of the all-time finest jazz vocal albums.
The album arose out of a 2005 concert commissioned by the Chicago Jazz Festival, showcasing the Coltrane-Hartman material.
Later, Elling and pianist Laurence Hobgood rearranged the music, culminating in a performance in the Allen Room at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.
Elling is a baritone with a four-octave range, and a writer and performer of vocalese, the art of writing and performing words over improvised jazz solos.
In 2007, Elling’s lyrics were published in a book by Circumstantial Productions.