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Rhythmic Pulse

Mark Murphy
So Many of Him: Vocalist Mark Murphy refuses to stick to a single genre.



Mark Murphy hunts for new audiences

By Andrew Gilbert

MARK MURPHY has been around long enough to cycle through two or three bouts of hipness. One of the most original and gifted male jazz vocalists to emerge in the '50s, Murphy transforms everything he sings into a vehicle for daring improvisation. Equally at home singing ballads, blues, Brazilian tunes, standards, contemporary pop songs and modern jazz compositions for which he writes his own lyrics, the 65-year-old San Francisco­based singer has come close to breaking through cult status a number of times. Working against him are his breathtakingly broad musical palette and the winds of change that gust through pop music every few years.

"It's like Orson Welles said, 'It's not my fault there are so many of me and so few of you,' " Murphy says. Murphy is still working to reach new audiences, adapting to recent musical trends with an approach that remains rooted in jazz rhythms and improvisation. For one, he hopes to build on his recent popularity on the international club scene. "I'm trying to solidify and enlarge this audience who's heard me on acid-jazz labels," Murphy explains, "like a thing I did with the Japanese group UFO."

Murphy continues, "Every seven to 10 years, I realized I'd have to create a new audience to keep going. It's more and more difficult now because the business has become so categorized." Never an easy artist to pigeonhole, Murphy first recorded for Decca in the '50s. He scored some minor hits in the early '60s with his classic Riverside albums RAH and That's How I Love the Blues. In recent years, Murphy has recorded mostly for the Muse label, including his best-known recording, 1981's Bop for Kerouac, a music/spoken-word project inspired by the writings of the legendary Beat novelist. Through all Murphy's phases, his devotion to swing, the rhythmic pulse at the heart of jazz, has remained constant. "Nat Cole and Ella were from the school of on-the-beat singing that I was brought up in," Murphy says. "I was born with this rhythm; I always had a swing to my style that evidently makes people want to tap their feet. If it doesn't, you're cheating the music."


Mark Murphy plays with the Smith Dobson Trio Sunday (Sept. 7) at 8:30 and 10pm at Garden City, 360 S. Saratoga Ave., San Jose. No cover. (408/244-4443)

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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