Sunday, January 7, 2018

Mark Murphy: Midnight Mood

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The singer who has most influenced Murphy, by his own reckoning, is Peggy Lee.

"She has such a creative approach through the lyrics," he said, "as opposed to Sarah Vaughan's creative approach through the music. Peggy is always creative: she never stops experimenting and trying out things. That's one reason she's never a bore. She's inconsistent but never dull.

"Next on my list of favorites, among the women, would be Lee Wiley. She's one of those rare phenomena, like Billie Holiday, who create a whole new way of singing without really trying.

"Betty Carter kills me when I see her, but she doesn't record well. There's something about her voice that they just haven't captured. I think she's just about the greatest jazz singer around.

"Among the men, I'd say. . . . Well, Johnny Hartman's voice is my favorite for a male singer. As a technician, Mel Torme is my favorite. For the feeling, Ray Charles.”

- Mark Murphy as told to Gene Lees
Source: Downbeat Magazine
November 7, 1963.

As the proud owner of This Could Be The Start of Something [Capitol Records T-1177] which was released in 1959 replete with Bill Holman’s Big band arrangements, I’ve been listening to Mark Murphy sing for a long time.

And from that time until his death in 2015, I’ve taken every opportunity to listen to him both in person and on record because he has always remained in my estimation, the epitome of a Jazz singer.

The problem with that term - “Jazz Singer” - is that over the years there has rarely been any consensus as to what it means.

I suppose, ultimately, what makes a Jazz Singer is largely a reflection of how one hears the music.

When it comes to Mark Murphy, however, there seems to be a universal consensus that he is indeed, a Jazz singer.

Mark worked at becoming a Jazz singer and he’s continued to do so for over 50 years.

He shared the following thoughts on the subject with Michael Bourne, DJ of the popular Songbirds program on WBGO radio:

“‘The definition of a jazz singer is a singer who sings jazz,’ said Mark Murphy with tongue-in-cheek, although, actually, he's a definitive jazz singer himself.

He scats with bravado. He improvises melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and with the lyrics. He writes vocalese lyrics to jazz instrumentals and also writes his own songs. He can break hearts on a ballad, plumb the deepest blues, bossa like a Brazilian, or wing harder and hipper than just about anyone.

‘A lot of singers attempt to sing jazz, use aspects of jazz in their arrangements, but without really getting into the whole thing,’ he continued in a 1975 interview with me for notes on the album Mark Murphy Sings.

‘l think the test is The Jazz Singer Test.  You take a singer and three musicians and you put them in a room, or a pub like I used to do in London. I had this trio. The piano player couldn't read. The bass player couldn't read. The drummer read, but it didn't matter. I gave them a list of tunes. We never rehearsed. We just got up. I gave them the keys, and I counted off, and it happened. Because we were all Jazz musicians. I think that's the test. If a singer can get up and cut that, he's really doing it."

One of Mark’s most definitive statements in the vocal vernacular of Jazz was his 1967 Midnight Mood LP which he made with a small band made up of members of the Francy Boland and Kenny Clarke Big Band which they recorded together in Köln
[Cologne] Germany in December, 1967 for the MPS label.

It has recently been issued with enhanced sound as an MPS CD [0212419MSW] with distribution by Naxos of America, Inc. and press by Michael Bloom Media Relations who kindly sent along the following annotations which I thought I’d share with you as they provide an excellent and succinct overview of the music on this recording.

Foreword to the New Edition

“When he died at the age of 83 in October 2015, the local papers were restrained in their obituaries. For many jazz fans and cognoscenti, singer Mark Murphy was vastly underrated; they are right, as his prolific six-decade-long artistic career attests: during that career Murphy exhibited an inventive stylistic range that covered blues to bebop on through to modern jazz.

His 1967 MPS recording lands in the middle of his "European decade", and it is one of the most beautiful, striking documents of his skills. "Midnight Mood" is characterized by the sophisticated dialogue between voice and eight musicians from the Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band, but it begins a cappella: Murphy welcomes us with Duke Ellington's "Jump For Joy" as he walks the vocal tightrope without a net, at the same time offering us a taste of his unorthodox scat singing.

With "I Don't Want Nothin'" the ensemble offers us a swinging, bluesy, mischievous miniature, while Murphy's voice on "Why And How" shifts towards a noticeably darker tinge, surrounded by short penetrating solo interludes from the band. "Alone Together" reveals a masterpiece of phrasing over syncopated piano play; "You Fascinate Me So" emphasizes Murphy's romantic ardor. "Hopeless" unfolds with overwhelming intensity a la Sinatra, and "Sconsolato" is served with a casual Hispanic flair. With subtly nuanced tenderness on "My Ship" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well", Murphy evokes a depths-of-night ambience in dialogue with the keys, while "Just Give Me Time" reflects a dark sensuality that swaggers between Swing and Bossa.

  • STEFAN FRANZEN Translation: Martin Cook

Original Liner Notes

“So you finally got past looking at the photo layout on the front and turned to the sleeve notes. Well if you are in a record shop and you are thinking about buying this disc, do it. If you at home, put the disc on the turntable and listen. Why should you take my advice? Well I will tell you that this record has some of the finest vocal talent in the jazz world today available for your ears by simply dropping a pick-up arm to the wax.

The pleasure that I get from listening to these recordings started on a cold December day in Cologne. The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band had had three hard working days in the recording studios recording radio programmes and LP material. The boys in the band were tired. On the fourth day Mark Murphy arrived to record with an octet. Any lesser band would have given an inferior performance, but not this band. The spark that lives in this international combo was lit. The atmosphere became electric and things began to happen. Mark, in a glaring red sweater, stood in a relaxed pose in front of the band, held one hand just to the side of one ear and sang his heart out. Playbacks were listened to in the control room with all the guys giving their advice. This was music being made by giants. Of the many times that I have heard Mark Murphy sing on record, none has ever come up to the standard of this.

Now Mark Murphy is an american singer who has never really received the recognition that he deserves. Ask a musician which jazz singers he rates and among the names you will usually find Mark Murphy. The public in England also digs the Murphy sound as he was voted number two singer in the world section of the "Melody Maker" publication polls in 1964 and 1965. The winner was Frank

Sinatra but Mark was very close. From his student days, when he was working as an actor, to the times when he studied singing, Mark has been moving steadily through to his goal. The very top of the singing profession. What reasons can be given for the obvious success of Mr. Murphy? One reason, to my mind, is that elusive quality that so many singers lack talent. He has it.

On now to the music and to side one in particular. This side consists of music for medium late listening and jumps off to a fine start with Mark singing unaccompanied at the beginning of the Duke Ellington-Ben Webster composition "Jump for joy". Later on the band swings on the Kenny Clarke Jimmy Woode number "I don't want nothing". Next comes a moody original from British trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar with lyrics by Mark Murphy himself. The title being "Why and how". For a tight band sound listen to "Alone together" and this side is concluded by a number on which Mark sings and trombonist Ake Persson plays all the right things That is "You fascinate me so".

Side two contains music for the real late night listener. This is midnight plus music as you can hear on the two tracks where Mark sings with Francy Boland's velvet touch on the piano keys giving that something extra to "I get along without you very weil" and "My ship". Jimmy Woode, bassist with the band, contributed the second track on this side. He himself has a great talent for lyric writing and is also a fine singer. Dig the latin touch on "Sconsolato". In conclusion we have the Boland-Woode composition "Just give me time" that features in the Italian film "L'lnvito".

... Well there we have it. The magic of Mark Murphy. Please excuse me while I make myself comfortable and listen to the whole thing again.
  • Keith Lightbody

You can checkout Mark’s vocal styling on this track from Midnight Mood.


  1. What a great review and piece in recognition of one of the icons! Thank you!

  2. I had this on vinyl back in the day. The re-issue is a boon to my ears with high quality sound reproduction. Long live the art of Mark!


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