Correspondence: About Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy may have had his problems the past few years, but rumors that he is not singing well appear to be unfounded. Rifftides reader and occasional correspondent Jim Brown sent a report with evidence.

A year or two ago, there were suggestions that Mark was in bad health, perhaps had dementia, and that he might not be performing again. Here’s a performance from last summer that will blow you away. Whatever his health problems might have been, it seems clear that he’s still hanging in. There are several other pieces of video from the same set that are worth watching, but this one is the masterpiece. Pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Willard Dyson are the accompanists in this medley from the Kitano in New York.

Mark is now living in Englewood, NJ, near drummer Billy Hart. I had asked Billy if he could find out how Mark was doing. A few months ago, he called to tell me that Mark had dropped in to Trumpets, a club almost around the corner from Billy’s house, and that he seemed in good shape and “it was like the Mark Murphy show” for a while.

Thanks to Mr. Brown for the Murphy alert. Additional videos from the Kitano gig show up at the bottom of the embedded screen. If you’re interested in more Murphy, among his many albums this one for the Riverside label in 1961 is still one of the best.

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  1. Jack Tracy says

    I have the utmost respect for your taste and opinions and for this blog, which is among my daily musts, but I have to tell you that you lost me completely when you described this performance as a masterpiece. For me, it was terribly painful to listen to, and had someone played this for me as an audio blindfold test I am afraid I’d have dismissed it out of hand. What am I missing?
    Jim Brown, not I, used the term “masterpiece.” I wouldn’t go that far. I find Murphy an intensely interesting, and often moving, singer. He evolved over the years into a musician who approaches songs with eccentricities of phrasing, pitch and time like those of an adventurous instrumentalist. I hear him not in comparison with, say, Frank Sinatra, but with a saxophonist like Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz or Sonny Rollins. Listening in that frame of reference, I found this performance creative and rewarding.—DR

  2. says

    There is one word missing in this context: *respect*. This is an old man of jazz whose heydays are long over, which is obvious. That’s life, okay?
    Though it may be a little too big a praise to place his name next to Sonny Rollins, Mr. Murphy deserved at least one award, namely the one for being a brave, courageous vocal jazz artist who never betrayed himself, or his fans.
    Helen Merrill would belong to the same league.
    As much as I love (jazz) vocalists, I’m neither a big fan of either Mark Murphy, or his sometimes too smooth “predecessor” (in style) Mel Tormé, but these men are nevertheless great artists, and their staunch community of devotees would at least prove that.
    Mark’s phrasing (and pitch) can be way over the top, and his vocal concept is a bit too artistic (sometimes it’s even pretty camp) for my taste. But, we never stop learning, do we? And so, I will go for that 1961-recording you’d recommended, Doug.

  3. says

    Regarding your October 15th Rifftides posting about Mark Murphy- I don’t know if you were aware, but this past July at the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in Portland Oregon, a scruffy looking older man dressed in warmup pants and a stocking cap wandered up onto the stage and started scatting with Karrin Allyson and Nancy King. Then someone in the crowd yelled “hey, that’s Mark Murphy!!”. After he sang a couple of tunes, I asked the bassist in the group Dan Balmer if that was indeed Mark Murphy, and he said yes. Mr. Murphy was apparently hanging around with a Portland based musician named Robert Moore. I had known about Mark Murphy, but was not expecting him to grace the stage at an informal local event like the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. I guess you never who is in the audience at your local jazz fest.