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Mark Murphy: Always the Beat Generation

Mark Murphy

Dressed entirely in black, jazz’s eternal hipster Mark Murphy slumps into a thick upholstered chair in the green room of the North Beach club Jazz at Pearl’s, San Francisco’s leading spot for the music. He looks exhausted, and his back is aching after his second 90-minute set has ended well after midnight, but when he talks about his new Verve album, Once to Every Heart, Murphy’s face gleams like the huge rectangular tourmaline ring he wears on his right pinkie. In a career that has waxed and waned with an almost tidal regularity over the past half century, the 73-year-old vocalist has delivered a breathtaking valedictory statement. Working with the cool-toned German trumpeter Till Bronner, Murphy interprets a dozen ballads with such world-weary wisdom and soul that it’s like taking a guided tour through the treacherous shoals of the human heart. “I love to tell stories,” Murphy says. “Warning people of the pitfalls. They will happen, baby, but you will survive.”

Survival has been a hallmark of Murphy’s career. Just when it’s looked like he’s been put out to pasture by the perennially bleak prospects for male jazz singers, he emerges with a new project that demands attention. San Francisco is where it all started for the Syracuse, N.Y., native, when he landed his first major gig opening for Anita O’Day in 1954. He made his recording debut for Milt Gabler on Decca a couple years later, but his utterly original style only emerged in the early 1960s on his two classic albums for Riverside, Rah and That’s How I Love the Blues!

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