“The Big Blind”: Kurt Elling’s Jazz Radio Drama in 1950s Chicago


The “Spectacular” Jack Lewis is an exciting young singer booming in 1950s Chicago, a dazzling performer who captivates audiences at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge – a true legend in the making. But there is a long way to go and a lot of hard lessons to learn.

The character Jack Lewis is a creation of Chicago-born jazz singer Kurt Elling, acting as the hero of his black jazz radio drama The big blind. Inspired by the golden age of radio, Elling brought a production of Lewis’ story to life in 2019 – albeit in person and on stage – over two sold-out nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Starring Elling as Jack Lewis and co-written by Phil Galdston, the production raised the musical bar on the classic genre, with original songs and new lyrics to instrumental highlights of the jazz canon, and a all-star cast featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Allison Semmes and Ben Vereen, supported by a big band of 26 string musicians.

After a few iterations, including a performance in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a virtual special from the Green Mill in Chicago, The Big Blind has finally made its way to your radio, thanks to Jazz Night in America. With selections from the world premiere at the Rose Theater and exclusive performances from Jazz Night, Elling takes the chair of the host to tell us the story of Jack Lewis in the world of The Big Blind.

Will Jack survive the fierce entertainment world? Or will love and jealousy derail his dreams? Tap into knowledge.

Musicians / Crew:

Kurt Elling, voice, writer, composer; Ben Vereen, Voice; Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocals; Allison Semmes, voice; Jeff Ward, announcer; Ulysses Owens, Jr., drums; Clark Sommers, bass; Stu Mindeman, Piano; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Lakecia Benjamin, Alto Saxophone, Flute; Alexa Tarantino, alto saxophone, flute, alto flute; Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute; Daniel Dickinson, clarinet, flute, alto flute; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Walter Cano, trumpet; Benny Benack III, Trumpet; Bruce Harris, Trumpet; Giveton Gelin, Trumpet; Michael Dease, trombone; Eric Miller, trombone; Wyatt Forhan, bass trombone; Tomoko Akaboshi, solo violin; Meg Okura, Violin, Paul Woodiel, Violin; Todd Reynolds, violin; Joyce Hammann, violin; Matt Consul, viola; Jeremy Kittel, viola; Marta Bagratuni, cello; Leigh Stewart, cello.

Guy Barker, composer, conductor; Bryan Farina, director; Terry Kinney, director

List of sets:

The Joker is Savage (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

What if forever? (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

The Faces I Find (Guy Barker, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

No complications (Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

Dressed in a song (JD Walter)

Be mine (or be careful) (James Newton Howard, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

The Face in the Bar Mirror (Wayne Shorter, Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston)

Sound of Love by Duke Ellington (Charles Mingus, Lena Seikaly)

Dressed in a song (Cover) (JD Walter)


Producer: Trevor Smith; Screenwriters: Kurt Elling, Phil Galdston, Trevor Smith; Hosts: Kurt Elling, Christian McBride; Score pianist: Stu Mindeman; Musical engineers: David Gibson, Vijay Tellis-Nayak; Musical mixing: Phil Galdston, Rob Macomber; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Project manager: Suraya Mohamed; Executive producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

Special thanks to Bryan Farina and Jonathan Stuart


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