Even on his first sides, recorded for Decca in 1956 with the Ralph Burns Orchestra, you can hear traces of the typical Mark Murphy characteristics that would define his long career: On “Fascinating Rhythm”, done at fast tempo, you can clearly hear and understand every single word; Mark has the ability to delve so deep into the lyrics that he could make each song a conversation. Sure, his vocalese style, his famous lyrics to pieces like “Stolen Moments” and “Red Clay” also stand out as landmarks, but I think his most important quality is that of being a true storyteller.
“The hippest hip male singer on the scene”, as Jazz Times magazine called him, had a string of success albums for Muse Records and also several Grammy nominations. Albums like “Bop For Kerouac” or “Beauty And The Beast” are essential. He put so much optimism and joie de vivre into “Before We Lose Tomorrow (Antes Que Seja Tarde)” from his album “Night Mood” (1987) which featured songs by Ivan Lins. He was one of the very few who masterly combined tracks to fascinating medleys: just listen to his magnificent “Daydream/In A Sentimental Mood” from his 2001 HighNote album “Links”, “Why Was I Born/I’m A Fool To Want You” (heartbreaking!) from “Some Time Ago” (2000) or “I Wonder What Became Of Me/If Love Were All” from his 2002 “Lucky To Be Me” on the same label. Of the latter song, by Noel Coward, he said: “There are a couple of Noel Coward songs, I suppose they’re not really in my style, but they bring tears to my eyes every time I hear them”. But in fact, it was his capacity to convey the story of those songs to the listener.
In July of this year, there was a heartfelt tribute to Mark at New York’s Pangea which featured some of the artists who played a vital role in his life, like the great Sheila Jordan (see article on these pages). I’m thankful for the many albums that he left us. “Two Lonely People” from the 2000 duo album with pianist Benny Green (“Dim The Lights”) is as fascinating as some of the songs he recorded with producer Till Brönner in 2005 and 2007: “Once To Every Heart”, the title track of the earlier album, and “Did I Ever Really Live” from the latter, are among the many, many songs that I cherish forever. I’m glad I met him several times during his visits to Berlin. After all, “Love Is What Stays”.