A Grammy-awarded star on the phone: Kurt Elling and the SuperBlue

I wrote about Kurt Elling four years ago that he is an unreachable international star whom we can only try to understand through his albums. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard about getting the chance to talk to the renowned, Grammy-awarded musician on the phone on the occasion of his upcoming concert in Budapest. Kurt Elling is still in the United States, but to my great luck, neither the time difference nor his busy schedule caused a problem.

The name of the album is SuperBlue. What does it refer to?

It is actually the name of the band consisting of the four of us: Charlie Hunter, DJ Harrison, Corey Fonville and me.

Kurt Elling

Why did you all, four soloists, create such a band?

I’ve known Charlie for 20 years, we’ve both been at the record label Blue Note at the same time. We always liked each other and admired each other’s music, and knew that there would be a time to record together. Then covid hit, and both of us were bored and stuck in our houses. We started to mess around Instagram, sent each other files, and it grew into a much more significant project. When Charlie went to Virginia to lay the tracks in with Corey and DJ, they sent it to me because we couldn’t meet, and it was supposed to be me to come up with the lyrics and the melodies. Actually, the first time I met Corey and DJ, the album had been recorded already.

This album is very different from anything you have done before. Is it a conscious or instinctive decision to go in completely new directions?

It is instinctive as soon as I make the decision to go down a road. I try to surround myself with musicians who are experts and the best in what they do, and my task is to learn from them and to get into their world a bit. It is always exciting to play something I haven’t played before. I touched upon some of this music in the past, like covers of Stevie Wonder and such things, but not to the extent of an entire record.

That’s humble! I’m sure many musicians say they want to learn from Kurt Elling.

(laughs) They can learn what not to do from Kurt Elling.

How do you mean?

I’m out here, trying my best. If they want to learn how to try your best, I’m the right person. But otherwise… I try to sing in tune, to make music that matters, to be a team player, and I don’t know whether I have the key to life in any of these domains.

Four years ago I wrote about your other album, The Questions, that the lyrics are particularly beautiful and meaningful. What are they about now?

The lyrics on SuperBlue reflect what has been on my mind. Some of them are just storytelling. I’m responding to music more than anything else, and the task is to be intuitive about what the grooves are trying to say and what the melody is. I don’t walk in with a game plan like “now I’m going to write about this or that topic”; I just follow up incrementally in a case-by-case basis.

How do you feel about this upcoming concert in the Müpa?

Great! We’ve already been out for a couple of dates, and we’ve had lots of fun. This concert in Budapest, like the ones before, will consist of a lot of dancing, a lot of fun, and we’re just gonna live it up while we’re out there on the road.