With his new album, Kurt Elling – the outstanding male vocalist in jazz today – celebrates a legendary legacy from outside the jazz world. 1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project honors a locale that the London Telegraph called "the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world." Even for the ceaselessly inventive GRAMMY-winning singer-lyricist, it's a hugely unexpected step, and one guaranteed to further solidify his reputation for bold innovation and superb craftsmanship.
"Having done so many projects about my love for Chicago," Elling says, "I wanted to make something that spoke of my love for New York." The two cities define his career. Elling developed his craft in Chicago, and recorded several of his early albums there – including his debut, Close Your Eyes, which catapulted him onto the national stage and earned the first of his many GRAMMY nominations. (All told, every one of Elling's nine albums has been nominated for at least one jazz GRAMMY – a streak unequalled in GRAMMY history.)
But in fact, Elling and his family have lived in Manhattan since 2008, and 1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project is his response to that experience.
"I didn't want to cover any of the New York songwriters jazz people usually go to: the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, all of whom I love; I wanted to reach out for something different for jazz. The vast collection of songs coming out of The Brill Building seemed like a gold mine."
A honeycomb of offices and claustrophobic studios at 1619 Broadway, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the fabled Brill Building at its peak served as the creative home for more than 160 tenants associated with the pop-music industry. Of these, the vast majority were composers and lyricists. From the mid-1930s through the early 1970's the architects of the "Brill Building Sound" churned out a preponderance of the popular songs that three generations of America grew up hearing and singing.
The term "Brill Building Sound" describes the string of rock-and-roll masterpieces that defined the genre and signaled its first maturing. These instantly recognizable songs came from such songwriting teams as Lieber and Stoller ("Stand By Me"), Goffen and King ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"), Mann and Weil ("You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling"), and Bacharach and David ("Walk On By"). Such teams crafted hit after hit while working in a physical environment with paper-thin walls that allowed the writing teams to hear and learn (or steal) from each other. It became a fertile and competitive hothouse of cross-influence and collaboration.