Music » Livewire

Mark Murphy

Monday, November 20, and Tuesday, November 21, at Nighttown.

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When jazz singer Mark Murphy made his name some 40 years ago, listening to jazz records was actually hip. The rest of the country may have moved on, but Murphy still sings, snaps, and struts as if nothing has changed in the interim. Discovered by Sammy Davis Jr. at a hometown jam session in 1953, Murphy combined Davis's showmanship with a love for cool jazz and cool culture. He quickly established himself as a scat singer and vocalist with incredible facility on such early records such as Meet Mark Murphy and later Rah! Over the years, the singer solidified his career and identity by fashioning vocal performances from instrumental jazz classics such as Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" and Herbie Hancock's hard-bop turned acid jazz anthem "Cantaloupe Island." He also recorded entire albums of material by such hip icons as Miles Davis, Nat Cole, and the king of all jazz-digging white-guy hipsters, Jack Kerouac. Many years later, Murphy is still an excellent singer with an inventive approach to rhythm and swing. He loves to bend and reshape a lyric and can sing with the fluidity and grace of a horn. His attraction to horn-like effects -- slurs, syncopation, dynamic manipulation, scat outbursts -- does sometimes overrule his sense of taste and restraint; a horn player can get away with much more of that type of thing than a singer can. Nevertheless, one of the few remaining great male jazz singers, and now a distinguished elder statesman in jazz with over 40 recordings and a few Grammys to his name, Murphy is definitely worth hearing.

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