October 26, 2015

The Real Hipster – Jazz Vocalist Mark Murphy (14 March 1932 – 22 October 2015)

Another celestial jazz light has gone out.

I was saddened when I heard that jazz vocalist Mark Murphy had died on Friday 22 October.  He was an incredibly unique voice in jazz, who never veered from the course he set for himself.  Always learning, absorbing and pushing.  He was one of the hardest singers for musicians to play with because there were no limits.  He allowed the music to flow freely through him and taken him and everyone else wherever it might go.  A real risk taker, a true improviser and a real jazz musician.  He never sung a song the same way twice.

I count myself as blessed, having been a student of his on a jazz summer school.  Having heard recordings of his some years before, I couldn’t miss the opportunity of learning from this icon.  His recording had had a profound affect on me, in a way that not many jazz singers have.  He opened my ears to the possibilities of making music with your voice, to being a part of the band, not limited to just singing the melody line and the written lyric but feeling and being the music.

I count myself as blessed, having been a student of his on a jazz summer school.  ‘Hipsters’ are a real thing now but they should really take a look and a listen to Mark Murphy who was the real thing.  Mr Cool.  I can remember him so well, his jazz speak, his dress (flamboyant), him wandering around with the largest bar of cadbury’s milk chocolate you can possibly imagine, breaking off squares whilst delivering pointers on performance.  I remember him too, telling me that female jazz singers had to wear high heels!  Tell that to Carol Kidd!  That was a surprise to hear.  But his connection with the music and his rootedness in himself was inspiring.  To be so free and to just be, that’s what we strive for and he had it.

Watching him and listening to him perform and to see how the top musicians playing with him were pushed to be their very best was incredible.  The absolute focus they had to have to keep up with this virtuoso, was quite something.  Boy did they work up a sweat!  For a singer, it was an amazing lesson.  He had total and absolute control of everything that was and would happen on stage.

Thankfully having had a long career of more than 50 years, which included more than 40 albums, he’s left us with a lasting testimony to his unique contribution to this wonderful music we all love.

He doesn’t have the ‘name’ recognition that many of his contemporaries have but that’s because he didn’t seek commercial fame.  That’s a shame.  Hopefully if you’ve not listened to him before, you’ll take that opportunity now.  Here’s a little something to get you started, one of his most popular recordings ‘Stolen Moments’ for which he penned lyrics to Oliver Nelson’s music.

Mark Murphy – Stolen Moments

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