September 30, 2008
Love and All That Jazz — Shared Musical Passion Was Their Timeless Soundtrack for Finding Life Together
By Sara Hoover
When Chris Parker and Kelley Hurt met at the University of Memphis in the music program, they became best friends but nothing more. At first.
"I was too young for her," said Parker, 35.
"I used to call him 'the kid,' " said Hurt, 42.
Hurt, a jazz vocalist, is from the Orange Mound area. Parker, a jazz pianist, is from Little Rock and moved to Memphis in 1991 to get a bachelor's in music.
Around that time, Hurt returned to Memphis to finish her degree, after touring the globe for 10 years. They met when Parker was 19.
Both got their start in families with musical backgrounds.
"My whole family is musically inclined. My mom was a singer. My brother plays piano. I tried to play the piano. When he got good at it, I didn't play anymore," said Hurt.
Three generations of Parker's family sang and played piano.
"We had a piano in the house, and I ended up taking lessons. My mother bought me the Smithsonian collection of classic jazz records in seventh grade. Once I heard Duke Ellington, The lonious Monk and Charlie Parker, that was pretty much it for me," he said .
Hurt's interest was piqued by seeing Fred Ford, Honeymoon Garner and Bill Tyus play at The Peabody.
"Those were my first mentors - where somebody really wanted me to come to the gig and actually listen," said Hurt, who started out in premed before she switched to jazz.
Parker's training came from several great pianists, notably Charles Thomas and Art Porter Sr.
"I ended up meeting guys who had mentored generations of musicians. There's musicians you read about in a magazine, and then there's the real musicians. You go to them because they are craftsmen," he said.
Unbeknownst to each other at first, they knew many of the same people.
"We both have pretty much the same mentors. While he was in Little Rock being introduced or told about these people, I was growing up with them. It was one thing we instantly realized we had in common," said Hurt.
The two started dating in 1995, and married in 2000.
Hurt's senior project kick-started their dating.
"I was her piano player and we started spending late hours together. She was always out of my league. She was older than me. I was this little kid from Arkansas, but finally I made my move. I waited for years. I knew a good thing when I saw it."
During the time the two have been together, they've worked on many successful solo and joint projects.
Hurt's first CD, " Raindance " , was released on Archer Records in 2003, and included several of her own compositions with Parker on piano.
The couple played in the band DDT, an early incarnation of the North Mississippi Allstars.
Hurt won the Phillips Award for Best New Artist from the Memphis chapter of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1997. She also had the distinction of recording the song "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" with Screamin' Jay Hawkins at Phillips Recording Service in Memphis.
She toured Italy with the Memphis Blues Revue and performed internationally with Bruce Willis and the Accelerators on a Planet Hollywood tour.
Parker has performed with many notables, including Herman Green, Joe Jennings and Alvin Fielder, and has traveled the world to play many festivals. Most recently, he performed in Brazil with the University of Memphis faculty jazz band.
After he received his bachelor's in 1996, Parker felt New York City would be the place to truly learn jazz. The couple lived there on and off for three years.
"I realized when I went to New York, I had already missed the jazz thing. That was between 1945 and 1975. It will never be like that again. That's a period of time you can't re-create."
They knew it was time to head south when Parker was playing in a subway, during winter, wearing a hat, coat and gloves. The temperature was so cold, he broke a note on his keyboard. The couple returned to Memphis in 2000, and make their home in a Downtown condo with their 15-year-old Tonkinese cat, Simba.
Parker received his master's in music in August from the U of M, and teaches there and plays with various bands.
Hurt has taken this year off to deal with health issues related to celiac disorder, an intolerance to gluten.
They have two albums recorded as a duo and a third album Parker recorded with another group that they plan to release.
"We just don't always have the money to print one up. Whenever we get the money, we do and put one out," said Parker.
The benefit of putting the records out themselves is the ability to experiment.
"I was able to do some stuff I would always think about but wouldn't do, like real avant-garde music," said Hurt.
"If you're only playing music for the money, you're a sucker. 'Cause you ain't gonna get the money that's worth all the trouble you had to go through to get it. You better be playing because you love music and that's where your heart is," said Parker.
Up close and personal
This is the fourth in our occasional series, Making it Work, about interesting Mid-South couples and how they make being a twosome work. Know a duo you think we should profile? E-mail winburne@commercialappeal. com.
What inspires you?
Hurt : Creativity
Parker: Dedication and sincerity
What do you like best about your spouse?
Hurt: His spontaneity
Parker: She's my heart
The hardest thing as a couple?
Parker: Learning to leave each other alone.
Originally published by Sara Hoover / Special to The Commercial Appeal .
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