Rizzo Reviews: Kurt Elling at Birdland

Courtney Rizzo, MBA Class of 2015

If you have not seen live jazz in New York City yet, go. Hearing and seeing good jazz inspires you to be more creative in every part of your own life. There are venues with great historical significance to the jazz scene within steps of NYU, namely the Blue Note, but my outing was up in Midtown, at Birdland.

Most jazz venues like Birdland are a date night package put together for you. It’s a cultured night out at fraction of what a Broadway show costs, and you can eat and drink through the performance. Ambient lighting and black and white pictures of jazz greats who have graced Birdland’s stage set the mood.

Like similar venues, you can opt to buy a cheaper ticket at the bar, but you will have to put in more effort to stake out a seat with a good view of the stage. Alternatively, buy a ticket at a table if you want to have a more private date.

Although I was disappointed by Birdland’s unoriginal cocktail list, the concert ticket came with a free drink ticket, so I couldn’t complain. The dinners being served around me looked tempting, most for $20 or less.


Tonight’s singer was Kurt Elling with his quartet. Much of the evening was familiar pop and jazz standards with Elling’s signature new-age twists, with each solo from the quartet more captivating than the next. The intense talent and technique of a great jazz instrumentalist can fully immerse you into a song in a way no other medium can. And, unlike other stuffy genres I know, remember that it’s fully encouraged to clap during the number to show your admiration.

The highlight of the set was the closing number, Nature Boy, which is recognizable from the standard version by Nat King Cole, or the amped-up version by David Bowie on the soundtrack for Moulin Rouge. Elling’s rendition was much closer to Bowie’s on the excitement scale.

The ethereal piano solo segued directly in from the previous song, but when Elling brought the band in by clapping a hard 1-2-3-4, the song took off rocking. As he did in other numbers, Elling hit a high falsetto note for the ending climax – a sound that has more than enough gusto behind it to balance his full voice.

Elling dedicated the encore, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” to his wife for their wedding anniversary, but it seemed as if they were playing just for me. After the set, Elling and his band mates came over to the bar to poke fun at the wife and mingle with the audience before cleaning up for the 11:00pm show, which made the night feel that much more personal.

Seen on October 26th at 8:00pm
Photo by Anna Webber

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