This is Hip
The Life of Mark Murphy
Peter Jones [+–]
Jazz singer and journalist
He read English at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and after a brief sojourn at the University of New Mexico he returned to England and began working as a pop music journalist. After a decade as a film and TV publicist, during which he was the researcher for the autobiography of Spitting Image founder Roger Law, he gained an MA in Film and Television Studies from the University of Westminster. Until 2015 he taught film and media at a variety of London colleges, and published a short book on black cinema (BFI Publishing), followed by a handbook for Media and Film students (Hodder Arnold).
For several years he played bass in a jazz sextet, before deciding to concentrate on singing. At around the time of his first album (‘One Way Ticket to Palookaville’ – 2013) he developed a serious interest in the work of Mark Murphy, which has continued ever since. He began working for London Jazz News, reviewing concerts and CDs, and conducting interviews, including one with Kurt Elling in 2015. His second album (‘Utopia’) was released in 2016.
When Mark Murphy died in October 2015, some obituaries mourned the passing of the greatest jazz singer in history. Murphy was also the last of his kind, a hipster of the Kerouac generation, who fought against the straight life of prosperity and numb consumerism. With a catalogue of more than 40 albums under his own name as well as numerous collaborations, Mark Murphy was also a consummate improviser, who never sang a song the same way twice. He could have had a successful mainstream career in the vein of Mel Tormé or Jack Jones. But his ambition was greater – to be an artist, to rebel against the commercial music industry and to carry the jazz vocal flame wherever it led him.
Murphy’s skills encompassed scat and vocalese, songwriting and the spoken word. He expanded the jazz singing repertoire, adding his own lyrics to instrumentals like John Coltrane’s Naima, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, and Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments. Unrivalled as an interpreter of ballads, he was able to express longing and regret to a degree lacking in any other jazz singer.
For years he roamed the world, playing thousands of gigs. Rediscovered in the Eighties by a new audience of jazz dancers, and again in the 21st century by a digital generation who remixed him and invited him to guest on their recordings, he remains a crucial though unjustly neglected figure in vocal jazz.
This Is Hip is more than a biography: it also evaluates Murphy’s work as a singer and as a teacher of singers. Based on numerous interviews with those who knew him best, the book delves into a performing and recording career that spanned 60 years and earned him five Grammy nominations.
Series: Popular Music History
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