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Mark Murphy: The Explorer

At 80, the great vocalist is in the midst of a career renaissance

Mark Murphy with Ella Fitzgerald, 1968, photo courtesy of the artist
Mark Murphy, early 1980s, photo courtesy of the artist
Mark Murphy and Sheila Jordan, 2008. Photo courtesy of Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy

September is waning and, though he officially became an octogenarian six months earlier, Mark Murphy is in Toronto for a one-nighter in celebration of his 80th birthday. The concert, a sold-out date that will kick off radio station JAZZ-FM’s annual Sound of Jazz series at the Old Mill Inn, is still 24 hours hence. Tonight, Murphy is tucked into a corner of the hotel bar, holding forth about the ups, downs and endless curves of a career that touches six decades. Apart from the classic jazz tracks-Miles, Ella, Bird with strings-softly piped from hidden speakers, the room is still, one middle-aged couple its only other nighthawks. Lean, lanky and colorfully dressed (his sartorial eccentricity a longstanding trademark), Murphy looks his age and admits that his memory has grown a bit spotty. But as the conversation meanders-even in interviews Murphy is the consummate improviser-it’s clear he’s lost none of his wit or charm. After Murphy departs, the nearby couple wanders over.

“We couldn’t help eavesdropping,” says the husband. “All those stories were so fascinating.”

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