Monday, December 14, 2009

Jazz Vocals: Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy (vocals; b. 1932)

Mark Murphy is one of the few truly original jazz vocalist left on the scene today. To me he is a combination of the scatology of Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and the rouge elegance Tony Bennett. He doesn't tour that often in the U.S. although he lives in New York City. He has been on the scene since the '50s. His early recordings are very self-assured and were part of the "Beat" culture for a short time.

Murphy moved to Europe in the '60s and this is when he really started to gain a grasp on his delivery, interpretation and writing. His raspy voice and ability to scat at such a rapid pace is stunning at first listen. If you didn't know he had been on the scene for five decades you would think this guy is nothing but a wry hipster but that this far from the truth.

Mark Murphy is an acquired taste all around but I believe if you enjoy jazz vocalists, especially one who can bend and reconstruct a standard and make it his own, then you need to check out Mark Murphy. His best material is scattered and goes in and out of print depending on the year. If you see any of the following Bop For Kerouac, Kerouac: Then and Now and Rah you should definitely pick them up.

There isn't a solid career spanning compilation on Mark Murphy but two compilations that would give you good idea of what a brilliant performer Murphy is. First, Jazz Standards (32 Jazz) which contains a large majority of material that he did during the 70s and will be pleasing to many. Secondly, Songbook (32 Jazz) also covers the same time period (71 - 91) with different track listing but same exquisite performance quality. In the last few years Murphy's material and labels have been all over the place. While the albums are good they are also hard to find.

He has gained a much wider audience now with the hip European audiences through collaborations with jazz/electronic influenced bands such as 4hero and Four Corners Quintet. His most recent albums, Once To Every Heart (Verve) and Love Is What Stays (Verve) both done with European musicians contains a mixture of standards and new renditions of more notable artists such as Coldplay and Johnny Cash and are very easy to find. Mark Murphy isn't everyone's cup of tea but he is well worth checking out.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the nice write-up. Wanted to point out this, though:

    "Four Corners Quintet" --> actually
    Five Corners Quintet