Grammy winners Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood go separate ways

And a follow-up to Hobgood's critically applauded album "PoemJazz" with Robert Pinsky, United States Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000, is being prepped for release.

"When we recorded the first 'PoemJazz' record – and I think there's some very magical stuff on there – but Robert and I were really just getting to know each other," says Hobgood, who performed with Pinsky for Poetry Day last month at the Harold Washington Library Center.

"And when we made the second recording … we (had) spent a year-and-a-half playing together and getting to know each other better and really creating a vibe. We both feel it's 10 times better than the first one."

Of the first "PoemJazz," critic Christopher Loudon in JazzTimes magazine referred to Pinsky as "arguably America's greatest living poet" and to the recording as a "tremendous collaboration."

For his part, Pinsky hears "a whole history of music" in Hobgood's pianism, the poet told me. "Classical as well as jazz. His tremendous implicit (musical) vocabulary. Sometimes it's allusions. Sometimes it's just these sneaky little – you get a feeling of whatever it is, Debussy or Duke Ellington.

"So he brings that, and it's original. But to me, in particular, he's thinking about the words. As you know, he's a very intelligent and well-spoken man," added Pinsky, who marveled at Hobgood's ability to wholly improvise accompaniments as Pinsky reads his own poems.

"Laurence often has the words of the poem on the desk of the piano, as though it were sheet music. And his eyes are on the whole space of the poem – he's reading the words as I do them. He's hearing the melodies of the sentences."

Whether we'll ever hear Hobgood and Elling performing together again is a mystery.

Elling, who used to refer to a "40-year tour" that he and Hobgood were pursuing, in his statement clearly left open the possibility of a reunion.

Said Hobgood, "I don't want to rule out that we will ever work together again."

Last month, as Hobgood prepared to bring his quintet to the Green Mill, I wrote that "one of these days, perhaps the music world will recognize the stature and tonal beauty of former Chicagoan Hobgood's pianism," and that this could happen when he "steps out of everyone else's shadow."

That moment begins now.

Umbrella Music Festival

The eighth annual Umbrella Music Festival, a marathon of new sounds, looks to be the strongest one yet.

The music will begin at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; admission is free; 312-744-6630. The festival continues starting at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9:30 p.m. Sunday, unfolds at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.; $20 each night; For more details, visit

Following is the complete schedule:

Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center

"European Jazz Meets Chicago": Night One

6:30 p.m.: Dorner/Lonberg-Holm/Zerang (Germany)

7:30 p.m.: Dovydas Stalmokas Quartet (Lithuania)