Live in Chicago (Blue Note)

Kurt Elling 

Released January 2000

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2001




I remember all of us being very excited about making a live recording for Blue Note at The Green Mill. And when I say “all of us”, I mean the band, Jennifer, our Wednesday night regulars, the owner Dave Jemilo, the staff, the engineers, our friends in the Chicago press — everybody. It was a cracking-special time. But I think I was the most excited, because it meant that I could try to bring everybody along with me in an experience that could conceivably go out to the whole jazz world. I was and am very proud of the players on the Chicago scene who inspired and encouraged me. Although I was always dedicated to learning and hungry for more, of the exemplary players I knew early on who really deserved to have a deal with Blue Note I was the least. So I looked at things as an opportunity to transmit something of the quality and the spirit of our corner of Chicago.
For LIVE IN CHICAGO we recorded three nights with a different guest situation on each night and wove the best takes together in the studio with engineer Danny Leake so that it came off like one set. Each night was a celebration, a transfiguring occasion. What secrets can I tell you that you don’t already know?

1 – I was scared. While there is never a metaphorical safety net in our shows, it’s a different thing when you are recording. There is no going back to fix anything at all. It either works and you sound good or it doesn’t and you don’t. Moreover, you know everybody will hear it — even right then while you are doing it. Plus, you want everybody to show up to the gig and help you along with spirit, right? But then they DO! Bruce Lundvall and entourage fly in from New York to catch the sets. Your wife is sitting there with friends. Your mom comes. Other musicians. Old girlfriends and long-ago allies sneak in. All kinds of people from past lives. And people are waiting outside in lines around the block for an hour at a time. And everybody wants you to deliver. On tape. If only for your own sake.

2 – Wrangling different sets of guests three nights in a row is no small feat. It was a great pleasure to cast a broad net. It was also a big logistical challenge. And every night I went onto the gig wondering if we had bitten off too much. We pulled it off, though, as well as we could. All our guests were really cool about being flexible and musical in ways that benefited the whole project. Listening back, I could do with one or two fewer singer features and more room for the cats to BLOW! I should really dig out the original masters and see what else we did that sounded right. I have a vague memory of 20 minutes of Moanin’ on the night of the three tenors . . .

3 – I meant to use a much hipper line to open the record. . . .The Green Mill, where your dollar buys you more? C’mon, man!! I had meant to say, . . . The Green Mill, the Pearl of Uptown, which would’ve been infinitely more classic (and ironic!) But at the last nanosecond a perennial tag line from a local used auto dealership elbowed its way into the language lineup and bolted out of my mouth. What are you gonna do, right?

Anyway, here’s to the Mill, the Pearl of Uptown.

Track Listing:

1. Downtown (Russell Ferrante) 3:50

2. My Foolish Heart (Ned Washington / Victor Young) 12:17

3. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Otto Harbach / Jerome Kern) 8:29

4. Oh My God (Sting) 3:51

5. Night Dreamer (Kurt Elling / Wayne Shorter) 9:00

6. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (William Best / Deek Watson) 5:19

7. Intro: (Esperanto) 0:44

8. Esperanto (Kurt Elling / Vince Mendoza) 1:44

9. Don’t Get Scared (Stan Getz / Jon Hendricks) 5:15

10. Intro: (Goin’ to Chicago) 3:39

11. Goin’ to Chicago (Traditional) 8:19

12. Intro: (The Rent Party) 0:44

13. The Rent Party (Kurt Elling / Ed Petersen) 5:39

14. Blues Chaser (Rob Amster / Kurt Elling / Laurence Hobgood / Michael Raynor) 1:28


Kurt Elling: vocals
Laurence Hobgood: piano
Rob Amster: acoustic bass
Michael Raynor: drums & percussion

Featured Guest Artists
Jon Hendricks: vocals
Von Freeman: tenor saxophone
Eddie Johnson: tenor saxophone
Ed Petersen: tenor saxophone
Kahil El’Zabar: hand drums

Recorded July 14 – 15, 1999, at Green Mill Jazz Club, Chicago

Produced by Laurence Hobgood and Kurt Elling


Fans of Kurt Elling have long known that his recordings, as clever and well-orchestrated as they might be, don’t quite match up to the power and charm of his live performances. Years of holding court at the Green Mill and other Chicago clubs are what really have brought Elling his most devoted followers, so it is exciting to see that Blue Note’s new Elling album is a document of three special nights spent recording at the legendary Uptown jazz club. And indeed, with a few small exceptions, the album shows off Elling at his best — loose, uninhibited, creative, and solid. His standard backing trio has never been tighter and more balanced, and the performance of pianist (and Elling collaborator) Lawrence Hobgood really shines. Three saxophonists — Von Freeman, Ed Petersen and Eddie Johnson — manage to blend together in perfectly balanced harmonies, as well as command attention in solos of their own. Chicago’s own Khalil El’Zabar makes a fine appearance, and a rare contribution by legendary jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks shows that he can still steal a show. The enthusiasm of the highly appreciative audience is captured, as well as more than a little evidence of the noise in the surrounding bar. The three nights of recording produced some fine versions of new and classic songs, including “Esperanto,” Elling’s pairing of the poetry of Pablo Neruda with the music of Vince Mendoza’s jazz classic, “Esperança”; and “The Rent Party,” which recalls Elling’s jazz-poet days at the beginning of his career.

Stacia Proefrock (AllMusic)