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Kurt Elling: Doing Justice To John Coltrane

Kurt Elling has a lot of gumption. On Dedicated to You, his new CD, he sings the songs of Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, including the utterly iconic "Lush Life" — which has been performed by not only Coltrane, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole and even Donna Summer. Is there anything left to bring to this confession about the sad wake of a rocky romance?

The answer is yes. The 41-year-old "male singer of the year" (according to the Jazz Journalists Association), Elling doesn't seem intimidated by the song's stature, and that's the key to his success. He doesn't try to reinvent "Lush Life"; he just sings it as if it happened to him.

Elling's warm and pure baritone is a perfect match for the song's opening lines, all about a young man's entry into the world of "jazz and cocktails." As is usually the case, things don't go well: A siren tempts him and tosses him. Elling turns words like "wrong" (as in "I was...") and "brain" (as in, "You're burning inside my...") into high-pitched moans. When he says he'll "rot with the rest," Elling slurs his words just a hair. At the end, he emits a heart-breaking wordless note, very Coltrane-like. And then he probably orders a drink.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.