The inspiration for Kurt Elling’s radio play The Big Blind—co-written with Phil Galdston and premiering at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York on Mar. 1 and 2—came from a very special place: the Green Mill, a longtime jazz club outside Chicago that has a rich and colorful past filled with mobsters, musicians, comedians, and violence. However, Elling’s connection to the club, at least initially, had more to do with personal experience than history.
“When I first moved back to Chicago [from Minnesota, where he studied at Gustavus Adolphus College],” he explains, “it was the first place I ever sat in, it was the first place I ever heard any number of extraordinary Chicago players, and it was a place where I could, as consistently as one was able to, hear Mark Murphy. I’m so grateful to have been granted my heart’s desire.” The Green Mill became a home base for Elling, who would go from being a local up-and-comer there to an artist signed to Blue Note and eventually one of the pre-eminent male jazz vocalists of our era.