From the mid 1930s to the early ’70s, the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway in midtown Manhattan was a one-stop shop for some of the most creative minds in American popular music, from singers and songwriters to publishers and promoters.
Songwriting teams such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield and artists such as Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole at one time or another had a space (most likely a cubicle) at the Brill. The songs produced there, and the “Brill Building Sound,” as it came to be known, became the soundtrack of an era.
It’s a sound that will be celebrated by jazz singer Kurt Elling at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center on Saturday night in a program that features tracks from his 2012 release 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project as well as his upcoming Passion World.
1619 Broadway is a smart tribute that includes songs such as Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, (made famous by The Monkees), Bacharach’s A House is Not a Home and Kent Harris, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s Shopping for Clothes (sung by The Coasters).
The album “was an access point for me in terms of connecting to New York history and the creative history of music,” says Elling, who was born in Rockford, Ill., and came of age as jazz singer in Chicago. He moved to New York City in 2008.
“I walk by [the Brill Building] on my way to my manager’s office when I get off the train down there, so it’s part of my routine — and it also has been an incredible goldmine of music over the years.”
In truth, some of the songs chosen by Elling were written after their composers had left the Brill. but as he once explained, “The Brill is both a physical reality and a mental construct.”
As for Elling’s next album, Passion World, it features love songs from around the world sung in their original languages and, he says, represents “another whole new direction to go on.”
“For example we are doing a couple of songs by [French accordionist] Richard Galliano, [Italian songwriter] Bruno Martino’s Estate, and also Si Tu Supieras,” by Cuba’s Graciela Pérez, the featured singer of the great Machito and his Afro-Cubans big band, Elling says.
“It’s a thrill for me to explore these different languages, the way these different cultures feel heartbreak, or the quest for a new love, or the way they express the mending of the heart.
“It’s a new thing for me and a way to expand my creativity. I’m just as always looking for the most beautiful songs I can sing.”