Jazz vocal giant Mark Murphy dies at 83

Widely recognised for his rich voice and expressive ’vocalese’ style and deep understanding of lyrics, one of the great American jazz voices has passed.

One of the great American jazz vocalists, Mark Murphy has died. He was 83. 

Murphy was widely recognised for his rich voice and expressive ’vocalese’ style that became the character of every song he sang. He was regarded by his fans as the definitive jazz singer. His music was colourful, imaginative and always poetic.

Murphy was Grammy Award-nominated six times and won several awards as a Poll Winner with readers of Downbeat Magazine. His recording career began in 1956. Murphy’s sixth album ‘Rah!’ from 1961 is a classic recording featuring great players including pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly and trumpeters Clark Terry and Blue Mitchell. He later recorded many much lauded albums for the Muse label including 1978’s ’Stolen Moments’ named after and featuring the Oliver Nelson composition, featuring his own lyrics. This is arguably a defining moment in an illustrious career.

He continued to tour until his eighties, though visibly unsteady on his feet. His last release as a leader was in 2013, for London based vinyl-only label Gearbox Records, with a tribute to Shirley Horn. Murphy is also featured on a 2015 release from vocal quartet London / Meader / Pramuk / Ross called ‘The Royal Bopsters Project’ with superb cameo appearances on four songs including Horace Silver’s ’Señor Blues’ and Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Red Clay’, both of which he has previously recorded.

Mark Murphy lived in London for several years, spending many nights at Ronnie Scotts and in the late 1980s was seen enjoying Gilles Peterson’s Sunday afternoon Dingwalls sessions in Camden, about which he wrote and recorded a song.

British jazz singer Gill Manly told Jazz FM, “Mark Murphy was my friend and mentor from 1991. I met him at Pizza on the Park one night and was completely blown away by his genius, musical flexibility and heart wrenching insight of lyrics. No one could or does touch his mastery of the jazz idiom. He lived many happy years in London with his partner Eddie and spent 100s of nights at Ronnie Scott’s where now an old black and white photo of him scatting with Ella can be seen as you walk in.” She added, “His impact on jazz singing and singers is immeasurable all over the world. His legacy is tremendous. His voice changed hearts and minds from Dingwalls to NYC, Mark was a legend.”

Gilles Peterson posted on Twitter saying, “Devastated to hear of the passing of a dear friend the great Mark Murphy. There throughout our entire journey, a leader and a teacher. RIP”

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