The Duke Ellington Songbook

The Duke Ellington Songbook will be performed by jazz legend Mark Murphy. Mark will be joined on stage by newcomer Michelle Walker. The singers will be backed by the musical director of Jazz on Granby – John Toomey and his trio.


Mark Murphy is one of the world’s greatest — and hippest — jazz vocalists performing today.

His coterie of fans includes tap dancer Gregory Hines, who spontaneously jumped up on stage at Mark’s Las Vegas engagement in 1995 to join him for an impromptu duet. Legendary composer Alec Wilder said of Mark, ‘I was quite literally amazed. Mark’s musicianship, range, intonation, diction, inventiveness and incredible rhythmic sense are all of a piece and all marvelous.’ Vocal greats Betty Carter, Peggy Lee, Cleo Laine and Shirley Horn all sing Murphy’s praises as one of the best in he business and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald declared ‘he is my equal.’

A six-time Grammy nominee, Mark Murphy has enjoyed a prolific 40-year recording career, with over 40 releases to date. His original lyrics to ‘Stolen Moments,’ ‘Red Clay’ and more are known the world over. His innovative projects range from the work of Nat ‘King’ Cole to Jack Kerouac to Ivan Lins to Eddie Jefferson. Stereo Review dubs Mark ‘one of the major artists of our age.’ Mark Murphy is a jazz singer. ‘For decades the question ‘What exactly is a jazz singer’ ‘has had two easy answers, Betty Carter. And Mark Murphy.’ writes the New York Post. ‘He is arguably the best male jazz singer in the business,’ declares Rex Reed.

‘Mark Murphy is to jazz singing what Bobby Fisher is to chess.’ Jazz journalist Dan Morgenstern writes, ‘I can’t help relishing his sure and swinging time, his musical and ever-inventive phrasing and that certain quality of sound and feeling combined with time and taste that to me spells jazz.’

Murphy is ‘a hipster’s hipster,’ writes the New York Post. Jazziz magazine concurs, ‘he is one of the true remaining jazz hipsters of our time.’ ‘Mark has devoted a long career to singing the hippest music with the best musicians,’ states Leonard Feather. ‘Consider the company he has kept on records. In the ’60s, Clark Terry, Dick Hyman, Roger Kellaway. In the ’70s, David Sanborn and the Brecker Brothers. In the ’80s, Frank Morgan, Richie Cole and the Azymuth Trio. Consider the jazzmen to whose instrumental works he has composed and sung lyrics: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny, Charlie Parker, McCoy Tyner, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.’

It was Sammy Davis, Jr. who first discovered the young Mark Murphy in 1953 at a jam session in Murphy’s hometown of Syracuse, New York. Impressed with Murphy’s talent, Davis invited him to his show that night, where he asked Mark to join him on stage. Davis — to whom Murphy devoted his Muse release, ‘What a Way to Go’ — was supportive of Mark throughout the years and was responsible for getting Murphy on the ‘Tonight Show’ with Steve Allen. It was Allen’s composition, ‘This Could Be the Start of Something Big,’ that Mark recorded a hit rendition of in 1959.

Mark Murphy was born into a musical family in Syracuse, NY, and raised in nearby Fulton. He sang in the church choir, where his grandmother and aunt played organ, and began piano lessons at the age of seven years. Murphy’s uncle introduced him to jazz through the recordings of pianist Art Tatum. In his teens Mark sang with his brother’s dance band, then went on to study acting and music at Syracuse University. He moved to New York City, where he appeared with the Filbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company and performed in amateur contests at the legendary Apollo Theater.

Murphy’s recording career began at the age of 24 with his first release, Meet Mark Murphy, on the Decca label. Producer Orrin Keepnews recalls Murphy’s early recordings as ‘timeless…it’s remarkable how fully developed as an artist Mark was so early on. He was born with his incredible rhythmic sense. And he’s matured throughout the years, his vocal powers remain undiminished.’ In 1958 Murphy moved to Los Angeles and recorded for Capitol.

He returned to New York in the early ’60s and did the now classic jazz recording ‘Rah’ on the Riverside label, featuring legendary jazz players Bill Evans, Clark Terry, Urbie Green, Blue Mitchell and Wynton Kelly. This album has been recently reissued by Fantasy Records. Mark’s favorite recording to date, ‘That’s How I Love the Blues,’ soon followed. In 1963 Murphy hit the charts across the country with his single of ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ and was voted ‘New Star of the Year’ in Downbeat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll.

With the advent of the Beatles in the early 1960s, work for jazz singers started to dry up in the U.S. Murphy moved to London, England in the late ’60s where he worked primarily as an actor. Mark continued however, to cultivate his jazz audience in Europe. He returned to the States in 1972 and began recording an average of an album a year for over fourteen years on the Muse label. These projects — including the highly acclaimed Nat King Cole Songbook Vol. I and II, Bop for Kerouac I and II, Living Room, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Beauty And the Beast and his classic, Stolen Moments — garnered widespread critical acclaim and numerous Grammy nominations. In 1987, Mark recorded Night Mood, an album of songs by Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, followed by the Grammy-nominated September Ballads on Milestone Records. Mark has appeared on U.F.O.’s (Polydor) last two releases, in which he has written and rapped lyrics on songs composed with the group. This collaboration will serve notice to the acid-jazz, hip-hop fans that Mark Murphy is the real thing. His contribution shows that jazz is timeless and transcends generations.

In August of 1997, BMG/ RCA Victor released ‘Song For The Geese’, [for which he has received his sixth Grammy nomination] an evocative, ethereal foray into the world of vocalese, possibly Mark’s most stunning work yet. Also in August of 1997 32 Records [Joel Dorn and Michael Bourne] released a double CD retrospective, ‘Stolen and Other Moments’, some of Mark’s best recordings for the now defunct Muse label. The CD features material from the two ”Kerouac” albums and a tasteful selection of “the best of Mark Murphy”.
Subsequently, 32 Records has released ‘Jazz Standards’ [1998] and ‘Songbook’ [1999] much to delight of Mark’s fans all over the world. The much awaited ‘Dim The Lights’ [Millennium Recordings LTD, 1999], Mark’s piano and voice collaboration with Benny Green was released in September of 1999.

In April of 2000 ‘Some Time Ago’ [High Note] was released. Mark Ruffin writes in Downbeat:
One day, the deserving Mark Murphy will sign with a major label, get a Grammy nomination, and … oh wait … that’s happened already. Some Time Ago is the kind of sparse, unpretentious, simple, unabashedly vocalese record Murphy should have been allowed to make for that elusive wider audience that the majors claim to deliver, because this is Murphy at his unadulterated best. Although he didn’t write any, Murphy introduces five more sets of lyrics into the vocalese lexicon on his 32nd album, including a sly tribute to Art Blakey with words to Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic,” and James Williams’ “Alter-Ego.” Murphy’s sensitive reading of Jimmy Rowles classic tune “Peacocks” is haunting and ranks as one of his finest recorded ballad performances. That track, along with his scat solo on “Bohemia After Dark,” stretches the singer’s tenor into it upper reaches, and both add a taut creative tension that is a fine example of Murphy’s excellence that critics, and a certain popular young male jazz singer, have been raving about for years. Kudos also to saxophonist Allan Mezquida, whose Phil Woods inspired alto sound on half of this release hearkens back to those great ’70s albums Murphy made with Richie Cole.

Mark Murphy continues to tour internationally year round, appearing at festivals, concerts, in the best jazz clubs and on television programs throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan. He is one of the most important, and yes, hippest, jazz vocalists of our time. His secret? ‘There’s a party goin’ on in Mark’s head,’ declares fan Liza Minelli, ‘and I want to go to it!’

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Born January 9, 1967 in Bohmholder, Germany.

Occasionally there comes along an artist that commands your attention. A sound that seems to transcends any particular genre. One that causes the listener to pause and take notice. For the modern Jazz world that artist is without question Michelle Walker. Her sound breathes a sense of unexpected familiarity to the listener. Not knowing what pleasures she will bring next to the microphone leaves you with anticipation. Her deep and stirring voice has won the acclaim of a broad audience in the local music scene in the Washington, DC area. She can be seen regularly at some of DC’s local jazz venues like Fino’s and La Porta’s as well as her old stomping ground Dean and Deluca’s outdoor café in Georgetown.

You could say that singing is in her blood. Her grandmother, Ruby Mae Wright, was an amateur jazz and blues singer from Alabama. Daughter of an Army Captain and busy housewife, Michelle was born the fifth child of six. Being a part of a large family during the 1970’s who fashioned themselves as the next family group like The Jackson Five or The Osmonds, she developed finely tuned ears for notes and rhythm. According to her sister Lynnise Rivers, “Michelle stood out from us for her ability to take songs apart, developing each vocal part and learning to reproduce the sounds she heard.” Michelle spent a large part of her childhood in community musical theatre. At the age of 12 she auditioned and was accepted into a school that concentrated on the Arts. ARTAG (Artistically Talented and Gifted Students) opened up to her a world of drama, dance and music for half the school day and the other half academics.

The diverse musicians of 1970’s generation were teachers and their music an avenue of discovery. From the soulful LTD, Al Green and Gladys Knight to the stirringly melodic Karen Carpenter, Jim Croce and Barry Manilow as well as other groups like the Eagles, Earth-Wind-and-Fire, Doobie Brothers and Chicago engaged her to sing everyday of her life. “There hasn’t been a day since I was 5 years old that I haven’t sung a note. My family got use to me answering their questions with a line from famous standards that my dad always played on the record player.” It is very clear in her tone and delivery of song that Michelle carries within her the lessons learned long ago. This is why her sound is so warm and familiar.

After high school, Michelle spent some time in London, England pursuing a singing career. She spent two years on the singers circuit and learned a great deal about performing live with bands. As a promise to her parents, she returned to the United States in order to finish college. While at the University of Maryland, Michelle began to study voice as a music minor. In the spring of 1996 she took a jazz class with Ronnie Wells and Ron Elliston and knew that her life had changed. During graduate school at American University, Michelle studied privately with D.C. jazz vocalist Pam Bricker and pianist Wayne Wilentz. In the spring of 2001, she formed her own Trio and began working steadily in clubs and festivals around the city. The Michelle Walker Trio will be touring and promoting her debut release “Slow Down” in the spring and summer of 2002.

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John Toomey is Associate Professor of Jazz Studies and Music Technology at Old Dominion University. Prior to joining Old Dominion University, he was keyboardist and music director for jazz legend Maynard Ferguson, with whom he recorded two CDs. Professor Toomey has traveled the globe to perform, including such venues as the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Berlin Jazz Festival. He was recently designated as a University Professor in recognition of his excellence in teaching. He performs frequently in the Tidewater area, and has just completed recording a compact disc with clarinetist Gerry Errante that will be available soon.

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