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.
“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.”
“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.”
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE ON THIS MAILING LIST PLEASE RESPOND WITH ‘REMOVE’ IN THE SUBJECT LINE. IF YOU ARE RECEIVING DUPLICATE EMAILS OUR APOLOGIES, JAZZ PROMO SERVICES ANNOUNCEMENT LIST IS GROWING LARGER EVERY DAY…..PLEASE LET US KNOW AND WE WILL FIX IT IMMEDIATELY!
Jim Eigo is very well connected, and extremely helpful in building our label’s catalog and getting us significiant media coverage in JazzTimes and Down Beat, The New York Times, Village Voice, Washington Post, and many major websites.
Jim also found us legal counsel, package designers, radio promoters and retail marketing consultants. We give Jim five stars in every respect!