Jazz Vocals

Murphy's Law (Part 1)


One of my favorite male jazz vocalists is Mark Murphy. So I love the fact that Concord is keeping some choice albums from his catalog in play -- early-'60s releases like Rah! and That's How I Love The Blues! and late-'80s works, September Ballads and Night Mood.

Murphy's combination of alpha-male baritone expressing a vulnerable emotional core is catnip for female fans. And all jazz fans admire his horn-like virtuosity, impeccable intonation and diction as well as his creative lyric writing. Just ask Kurt Elling, one of the most well-known of his musical progeny.

Rah! features not only hard bop pianist Wynton Kelly but the great Bill Evans, as well as Jimmy Cobb and frequent Murphy collaborator Clark Terry. Always the iconoclast, the title was a tweak at Riverside, Murphy's label, which was trying to market him to college students, according to jazz historian Will Friedwald.

Murphy joins the horn section in "On Green Dolphin Street," an early example of his trademark horn soli singing and foreshadowing the genius of his acclaimed arrangement of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments." My favorite track is "Doodling," a humorous vocalese about taking his girl to dinner and getting in a fight with the waiter. Murphy's hilarious German-accented waiter showcases his acting ability -- he studied it in college.

That's How I Love The Blues! is 12 tracks of mostly 12-bar Blues with "Blues" or "Blue" in their titles. Arranged and conducted by Al Cohn, it features a trumpet section of Clark Terry, Snookie Young and Nick Travis.

His "Going To Chicago Blues" rivals Joe Williams' famous version, the gold standard for that song. But all of his interpretations of these classic tunes are gems, with Murphy finding that sweet spot of vocal ingenuity without the show-offy histrionics that sacrifice a song's melody and meaning. And again, there's that horn sensibility. If a tenor sax could speak, it would sound like Mark Murphy.

I'll follow up with the later releases in my next post but in the meantime, pick up these two timeless classics.