If there is one constant in Elvis Costello’s career—which now stretches over close to 40 years and includes almost as many albums—it is his insatiable musical curiosity, the driving force behind a songbook that has resisted prevailing winds and trends to flourish on 2 continents and with innumerable collaborators. Defiantly resisting categorization or labels, this prolific artist made his name in punk/New Wave before moving boldly forward to embrace pop, jazz, country and classical music, driven by a desire for constant musical self-renewal that has established him among the most talented and influential composers of his generation. With a raft of awards including a Grammy for the song I Still Have That Other Girl (1999), inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, he was ranked among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 and presented with the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award in 2014.
Born Declan McManus in London in 1954, Elvis Costello first burst into view with his stage name—fusing Elvis Presley with his mother’s maiden name—in 1977, a protégé of Jake Riviera of Stiff Records.
His debut album, My Aim Is True (1977) propelled him to the forefront of the scene: acclaimed by critics and the public, it reached #14 on the British charts and was released the same year in the U.S. on Columbia Records. “Costello exploded onto the punk/New Wave scene like a mutant hybrid of Buddy Holly and Johnny Rotten,” wrote Pitchfork. The album also included the hit Alison, and Watching the Detectives.
Costello also appeared with the band that would accompany him on-and-off for almost 20 years: The Attractions, featuring bassist Bruce Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas. Their 10 albums include hit releases This Year's Model (1978); Armed Forces (1979), Get Happy!! (1980), Almost Blue (1981), Imperial Bedroom (1982), Punch the Clock (1983) and Blood and Chocolate (1986).
As a solo artist, Elvis Costello made his name with country-folk album King of America (1986) and his 1987 collaboration with Paul McCartney, which produced the Spike album and the single Veronica, his biggest commercial hit in the U.S.
In 1993, Costello forged ahead into classical music with The Juliet Letters, a collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet. He pursued this vein with Il Sogno, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra (2004), as well as The Secret Songs, an opera based on the life of Hans Christian Andersen, commissioned by the Royal Danish Opera (2005).
In that era, he also surrounded himself with The Imposters, with two former members of the Attractions, Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve, and bassist Davey Faragher. They released their first album, When I Was Cruel on Island Records in 2002. They also worked with Costello on Cruel Smile, The Delivery Man and Momofuku in 2008.
And jazz has been included in his musical wheelhouse. After an EP with guitarist Bill Frisell in 1995, he released North in 2003 and explored productive collaborations with artists notably including his wife, jazz singer-pianist Diana Krall, Burt Bacharach, the Charles Mingus Orchestra and Lucinda Williams. In 2003, he delivered his first ever performance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Since then, he has released the highly acclaimed albums Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (2009) and Wise Up Ghost (2013), a collaboration with hip-hop group the Roots.
In 2014, he returned to the Festival for a solo performance in the Maison symphonique and took the opportunity to join Diana Krall onstage during her massive free outdoor concert on the Place des Festivals. In recognition of his remarkable influence on international popular music, the Festival presented him with the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award.