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Mark Murphy, an Unconventional Jazz Vocalist, Dies at 83 – The New York Times

Mark Murphy, an Unconventional Jazz Vocalist, Dies at 83 – The New York Times


Mark Murphy, an Unconventional Jazz Vocalist, Dies at 83

OCT. 25, 2015
Mark Murphy performing at Birdland in 2005. Rahav Segev for The New York Times 

Mark Murphy, an iconoclastic jazz vocalist who drew inspiration from such varied sources as the sound of his hometown factory whistle and the words of the Beat novelist Jack Kerouac, died on Thursday in Englewood, N.J. He was 83.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his manager, Jean-Pierre Leduc, said.

A resonant baritone, Mr. Murphy was nominated for six Grammy Awards and was cited multiple times by readers of Down Beat magazine as male vocalist of the year.

In his book “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers” (2010), the jazz critic Will Friedwald wrote that Mr. Murphy and the similarly adventurous singer Betty Carter, who died in 1998, “were the co-founders of the school of swinging eclecticism in jazz vocals, major influences on virtually all the well-regarded singers of the current generation.”

Celebrated for his interpretations of songs by Cole Porter, Antônio Carlos Jobim and other great songwriters, Mr. Murphy was perhaps equally well known for his own lyrics to jazz classics like the saxophonist Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” and the trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” which he recorded as “On the Red Clay.”

He ranged from bebop to ballads, torch songs to scat singing, from vocalizing Kerouac’s poetry to experimenting with rhythms inspired by the whistle that summoned his neighbors in upstate New York to the local wool mill.

Mr. Leduc said that Mr. Murphy, who spent most of the 1960s in London, was the first jazz singer to record the Beatles hit “She Loves You.”

Mark Howe Murphy was born in Syracuse on March 14, 1932. His parents, Dwight Murphy Sr. and the former Margaret Howe, met at the local Methodist church, where his father was the choir director.

Mr. Murphy died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home, where he had been living for several years. He is survived by his sister, Sheila Bidwell. His partner, Eddie O’Sullivan, died in 1990.

Mr. Murphy was raised in Fulton, N.Y., where his grandmother and aunt were church organists. (His aunt also played in a swing band.) He began taking piano lessons when he was 7 and joined his brother’s six-piece jazz band as a singer when he was a teenager.

As he began performing regularly, he drew encouragement from a chance encounter with Sammy Davis Jr. at a jazz club. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1953, he moved to New York City, where he worked as both an actor and a singer before settling on music as a career. His first album, “Meet Mark Murphy,” was released on the Decca label in 1956.

Over the years Mr. Murphy recorded some 50 albums for various record companies, most notably for the small jazz label Muse from 1973 to 1991. He continued to perform in New York nightclubs well into his 70s. His last appearance was at Joe’s Pub in 2013.

Unlike most male jazz and pop singers, Mr. Murphy “doesn’t adopt the usual masculine poses,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times in 2005.

“Instead of playing the seducer or the comforter when crooning,” he added, “or the preening, self-assured leader of the pack when swinging, he embodies a wandering post-Beat minstrel, a restless soul, world-weary hipster and die-hard romantic ruminating on old loves.”

Musicians can learn improvisation only by doing, Mr. Murphy told the website All About Jazz in 2009.

“The way I learned was, I’d just get up there, and at first the more complex parts of the improv weren’t there,” he said. “But you try them again and it flows a little more. You have to fall in love with it, and that’s what gives you the courage and the inspiration to go on further and further and further. And then, all of a sudden, things start to happen.”


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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