Celebrating Mark Murphy, Jazz Singer Extraordinaire: 1932-2015

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Rah! all the time. He had an extraordinary command for ballads, where his sensitive phrasing showed him at his best. His version of Kurt Weill / Ira Gershwin’s classic “My Ship” is one of the best I know of.

Murphy, a rich baritone, was equally adept not only in ballads but also in vocalise–the re-creation of classic jazz solos by voice such as “Red Clay” and “Stolen Moments,” but also was a fine scat singer, that most difficult of all jazz vocal styles.

Mark Murphy grew up on the East Coast and cut his teeth in the late 50’s New York scene, a great place for any jazz musician. After living in London and Europe in the 1960’s, he later moved to San Francisco. Then he returned to Europe, where he taught and performed. He recorded prolifically, releasing over 50 albums from 1956-2013. I wrote a profile on him for Down Beat in 1977, something that inexplicably had never happened even though he’d been on the scene for 20+ years at the time and had much acclaim among jazz fans. He wrote lyrics to Freddie Hubbard’s song”Red Clay”, as well as a great version of Oliver Nelson’s timeless ballad “Stolen Moments”.

There are not that many male jazz vocalists out there, never has been, and now there are even less. Jazz fans will miss this wonderful artist. I will too.

(Photo above:  I’m on the left, Mark’s in the middle, my high school jazz fan buddy Pat is on the right).

Here is his ballad artistry on “My Ship”:

…and his hit vocal version of the Freddie Hubbard classic “Red Clay”: