This Wednesday, May 20, there is only one place to be – Sage Gateshead. Kurt Elling, the pre-eminent singer of his generation, is in town. Chicago-born Elling will be singing with the finest big band in the land, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in a programme celebrating the centenary of the birth of the pre-eminent singer of the twentieth century – Frank Sinatra.
This Sage Gateshead concert appearance will be the only date in England. Elling will fly in from the States to link up with Tommy Smith’s award-winning orchestra, make for the rehearsal studio, then make the trip to Gateshead Quays. After that, Elling, Smith and the band head north of the border to play a further four dates before the Chicagoan flies back to the States. You could catch him at Birdland in NYC, or perhaps on the French Riviera when he returns to Europe to headline at the Nice Jazz Festival. Booking tickets for Sage Gateshead is the easier option! Kurt Elling with a big band in Hall One promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Kurt Elling and Tommy Smith were born in the same year – 1967. The American singer read philosophy by day, sitting-in at jazz clubs by night. Jazz won out, the student Elling sang for little in the way of financial reward but his determination to make it is our gain. Smith’s music teacher recognised her saxophonist student had something special. At the age of sixteen he recorded his first album – Giant Strides. Two years later, thanks to the local community raising funds, Smith was able to enroll at Berklee. Gary Burton drafted him into his band and Smith went on to record with his own band Forward Motion.
A teenage Tommy Smith played gigs for Jazz North East, went on to release two dozen albums and, twenty years ago, founded the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Smith, the orchestra’s Artistic Director, has established the band at the top of its profession. Tours throughout the UK with guest soloists have become a fixture on the jazz scene and such is the band’s reputation it has toured North America.
Kurt Elling possesses a four-octave baritone voice, for many years working with pianist Laurence Hobgood. He has been voted Best Male Vocalist in DownBeat’s Critics’ Poll for the last fourteen years, the magazine’s Readers’ Poll is catching up (eight at the last count), JazzTimes’ awards are many, as are Grammy Award nominations with the 2009 recording Dedicated to You securing a Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album. Having had the privilege of recording for Blue Note and working with a long list of the very best in the business (Joanne Brackeen, Bob Mintzer and Jon Hendricks to name but three) Kurt Elling is at the top of his game. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra boasts some of the best musicians working in jazz today. The orchestra without a guest artist is well worth hearing, with Kurt Elling on the bill “Elling Swings Sinatra” at Sage Gateshead is a live contender for gig of the year!
By Russell Gunning, for “bebop spoken here”