Jazz Musician Spotlight

Elvis Costello //

ON THE MUSIC OF HIS LIFE

For the first few years of his life, Elvis Costello had no intention of taking up the family business. Though his grandfather was a working trumpeter on a cruise ship and his father sang in a big band orchestra, young Elvis didn’t think much of his musical upbringing. “I could carry a tune, but it never occurred to me that I would do it as a living,” he tells me over the phone. “And my folks split up, so I associated music with some sadness.”

By now, it seems safe to say Costello has accepted his fate. In the four-plus decades since releasing My Aim Is True, his vigorous 1977 debut, Costello has explored every corner of the profession. From his years as a young and brash Stiff Records signee to his current status as a rock’n’roll hall of famer who’s worked with everyone from Paul McCartney to New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint to the Roots, Costello’s curiosity has never lapsed. At 66, he’s still chasing his impulses, seeing where they lead.

His recent 31st studio album, Hey Clockface, distills a lifetime of music fandom and exploration into something raw and immediate. The title track nods to the show tunes and standards his father sang at London’s Hammersmith Palais, while “Newspaper Pane” is understated and articulate, sonic kin to Costello’s 1983 single “Pills and Soap.” Amid all of his shape-shifting over the years, what has remained constant is Costello’s voice: It still crackles with vulnerability and blisters with rage and softens when you least expect it (sometimes to deliver his sharpest riposte).

Elvis Costello //

ON THE MUSIC OF HIS LIFE

For the first few years of his life, Elvis Costello had no intention of taking up the family business. Though his grandfather was a working trumpeter on a cruise ship and his father sang in a big band orchestra, young Elvis didn’t think much of his musical upbringing. “I could carry a tune, but it never occurred to me that I would do it as a living,” he tells me over the phone. “And my folks split up, so I associated music with some sadness.”

By now, it seems safe to say Costello has accepted his fate. In the four-plus decades since releasing My Aim Is True, his vigorous 1977 debut, Costello has explored every corner of the profession. From his years as a young and brash Stiff Records signee to his current status as a rock’n’roll hall of famer who’s worked with everyone from Paul McCartney to New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint to the Roots, Costello’s curiosity has never lapsed. At 66, he’s still chasing his impulses, seeing where they lead.

His recent 31st studio album, Hey Clockface, distills a lifetime of music fandom and exploration into something raw and immediate. The title track nods to the show tunes and standards his father sang at London’s Hammersmith Palais, while “Newspaper Pane” is understated and articulate, sonic kin to Costello’s 1983 single “Pills and Soap.” Amid all of his shape-shifting over the years, what has remained constant is Costello’s voice: It still crackles with vulnerability and blisters with rage and softens when you least expect it (sometimes to deliver his sharpest riposte).

© 2020 by CHARU SURI