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'The Big Blind': Kurt Elling's Jazz Radio Drama In 1950s Chicago

Kurt Elling in The Big Blind
Lawrence Sumulong/JALC
Jazz at Lincoln Center
Kurt Elling in The Big Blind

The "Spectacular" Jack Lewis is a thrilling young singer on the rise in 1950s Chicago, a dazzling performer who captivates audiences at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge – a true legend in the making. But there's a long way to go and a lot of hard lessons to learn.

The character Jack Lewis is a creation of the Chicago-born jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, acting as the hero of his noir jazz radio drama The Big Blind. Inspired by the Golden Age of radio, Elling brought a production of Lewis' story to life in 2019— albeit in-person and onstage — over two sold-out nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. Starring Elling as Jack Lewis and co-written by Phil Galdston, the production upped the musical ante on the classic genre, with original songs and new lyrics to instrumental high points in the jazz canon, and an all-star cast featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Allison Semmes and Ben Vereen, backed by a 26-piece big band with strings.

After a few iterations, including a London presentation with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a virtual special from the actual Green Mill in Chicago, The Big Blind has finally made its way to your radio dial, courtesy of Jazz Night in America. With selections from the world premiere at Rose Theater and Jazz Night exclusive performances, Elling takes the host chair to bring us the tale of Jack Lewis in the world of The Big Blind.

Will Jack survive the cutthroat entertainment biz? Or will love and jealousy derail his dreams? Tune in to find out.


Kurt Elling, Vocals, Writer, Composer; Ben Vereen, Vocals; Dee Dee Bridgewater, Vocals; Allison Semmes, Vocals; Jeff Ward, Announcer; Ulysses Owens, Jr., Drums; Clark Sommers, Bass; Stu Mindeman, Piano; Eric Alexander, Tenor Saxophone; Lakecia Benjamin, Alto Saxophone, Flute; Alexa Tarantino, Alto Saxophone, Flute, Alto Flute; Diego Rivera, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Alto Flute; Daniel Dickinson, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute; Carl Maraghi, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet; Walter Cano, Trumpet; Benny Benack III, Trumpet; Bruce Harris, Trumpet; Giveton Gelin, Trumpet; Michael Dease, Trombone; Eric Miller, Trombone; Wyatt Forhan, Bass Trombone; Tomoko Akaboshi, Concertmaster, Violin; Meg Okura, Violin, Paul Woodiel, Violin; Todd Reynolds, Violin; Joyce Hammann, Violin; Matt Consul, Viola; Jeremy Kittel, Viola; Marta Bagratuni, Cello; Leigh Stewart, Cello.

Guy Barker, Score Composer, Conductor; Bryan Farina, Stage Producer; Terry Kinney, Stage Director

Set List:

The Joker Is Wild (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

What If Forever? (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

The Faces I Find (Guy Barker, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

No Complications (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

Dressed In A Song (JD Walter)

Be Mine (Or Be Careful) (James Newton Howard, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

The Face In The Barroom Mirror (Wayne Shorter, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

Duke Ellington's Sound of Love (Charles Mingus, Lena Seikaly)

Dressed In A Song (Reprise) (JD Walter)


Producer: Trevor Smith; Writers: Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston, Trevor Smith; Hosts: Kurt Elling, Christian McBride; Score Pianist: Stu Mindeman; Music Engineers: David Gibson, Vijay Tellis-Nayak; Music Mixing: Phil Galdston, Rob Macomber; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

Special thanks to Bryan Farina and Jonathan Stuart

Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Trevor joined the WBGO Development Department in April of 2017 and currently handles grant writing and institutional giving initiatives as the Coordinator of Corporate and Foundation Relations.