I saw him at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam – he wore very casual mustard yellow pants, and I remember thinking: ‘remarkable choice for a performer’ – when he impressed me deeply with his a capella opening for his very first song.
Out of the tree of life he just picked himself a plum. Uhm.. a note.
That is one of the hardest things to do for any singer. Most of us de-escalate rapidly and we end up in a completely different key than where we started. Imagine the horror if your band would pick up in the original key and leave you standing in a pool of blood.
But no, not Kurt. He effortlessly stayed in the right key. Man! Let’s all start studying again, RIGHT NOW!
Kurt Elling is one of the finest male jazz singers around these days. So accomplished. So trained. Just plain mastery. He’s from Chicago, sang in choirs in his early years, earned a master’s degree in philosophy of religion, and recorded over 10 solo albums to date, of which Dedicated to You won him a Best Vocal Jazz Album in 2009. Besides singing so marvelously in tune, he’s a very skillful improviser.
Now, how shall we train our pitch and get into the arena? It’s easy! Just record yourself. I’m a firm believer of recording (and by now I have some stock in Sony).
Sing 8 bars of your next song with instrumentation (use iRealpro for that).
Memorize your first note. Now sing the same 8 bars without instrumentation.
Check if you stayed in the right key. Be a true perfectionist here. No cheating. The middle has to be in tune too!
How did you do? Great? Congratulations!
Challenge yourself a bit further and sing the whole song a capella. (Oh noooo!)
If you need some more chops to stay in tune; always picture yourself hitting the note ‘on the head’, never imagine yourself having to reach for a note from the bottom up. This will make a seriously big difference in the energy and the articulation with which you sing.
Oh, and those pants? Turned out his suitcase had not arrived. Now there’s a true singer’s nightmare…
My album tip for you:
Kurt Elling – Dedicated to You (Concord Records, 2009)
Kurt Elling on Wikipedia: