Jamie Cullum: Mad About Music
“ As I watched them play they looked so happy just to be playing. When I saw that, I thought, 'I want to do that, I want to be that good and I want to play with that much passion.' ”
Jamie Cullum is an innovator and an artist whose music speaks to a new generation of music fans and jazz enthusiasts alike. The title track from Twentysomething (Verve Forecast, 2004) is much like an anthem for this new cohort of music fans. He is a consummate musician and his passion for his art is clear, repeatedly showcased by his skilled improvisation and the clever lyrics of his compositions which set him apart from any artist of his kind. There is such sincerity in his vocal interpretations that fans of various ages can relate to the topics discussed in his songs.
Cullum maintains a composition's original structure, while breathing captivating new verve into timeless songs such as, "Singing In The Rain, "I Get A Kick Out of You and "I Could Have Danced All Night, to name a few.
As a young artist who is well on his way to becoming a household name, he appreciates who the great storytellers were before him. His music is a product of his intense love for various genres fostered during his adolescence, among them an admiration for jazz.
Having played countless gigs as an adolescent, he was able to competently gain the experience that seasoned players obtain through years of extensive travel on the road.
He has an air of both veracity and professional integrity. Cullum has enjoyed much success since his debut release Pointless Nostalgic (Candid, 2002), and likewise his most recent release Catching Tales (Verve Forecast, 2005) has garnered much critical acclaim and success.
Although currently on tour, I was able to speak with him during one of his free moments.
All About Jazz: You come from a musical family, your father played the guitar and your mother played the piano.
Jamie Cullum: Well my father played very badly, he could only play three chords. I think the musical part of the family really comes from the fact that we had a piano in the house and my mother sang in church. My brother was always interested in music from day one, so that is the connection.
AAJ: When was the first time that you knew that you had the talent to make music your career?
JC: That was not until I was twenty-one. I had already made my first album and played many gigs. I never thought that it would be my career, even when I was playing clubs and pubs. I earned a degree in Film and English Literature and in the back of my mind I didn't think that I had the talent or the drive, but it just happened.
One turning point I think was the night before my final. For one of my film exams, which was on Alfred Hitchcock, I went to the movies to watch Rear Window, and I went to Ronnie Scott's after the show to see the Mingus big band and something really clicked that night. There were twenty-five people in the band and ten people in the audience. As I watched them play they looked so happy just to be playing. When I saw that, I thought, "I want to do that, I want to be that good and I want to play with that much passion.
AAJ: Your brother was one of the major influences for you as you grew up. He showed you how to be very open-minded about different styles of music. Was there one particular artist that inspired you to become a pianist?
JC: There were so many really. I guess it would have to be Herbie Hancock, if I have to go back to a true source of inspiration. Another great source of inspiration was Harry Connick, Jr. and Ben Folds as well. I was listening to a lot of rock, disco, rave, electronica and hip-hop during the time when I started to listen to Herbie Hancock. My brother and I checked out albums like Head Hunters (Columbia/Legacy, 1973), Thrust (Columbia/Legacy, 1974) and albums like that.
The first Harry Connick, Jr. album I listened to was an album called, She (Columbia, 1994). Which was a big album for him, which kind of freaked everyone out because he did all this funky stuff. It is the first album of his that I heard and really fell in love with. I had the opportunity to hear him perform that album live and that blew me away, and it was around that time that I was really into Ben Folds Five and I went to see him. Those are the three people who made me want to play. After that it was Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett that inspired me as well.
AAJ: All extremely talented artists. You have been playing music longer than some may think. You have been playing in bands since you were a teenager. Did that help you become even more focused in knowing exactly what direction you wanted your music to take?
JC: Well, what really helped is all that kind of pre-production. It was really just the experience of playing onstage. When I made Twentysomething, Pointless Nostalgic and Catching Tales, in terms of what music I wanted to do I absolutely knew, but there was far more experimentation. I went into the studioyou know, these are the ideas, these are the songs, and these are the arrangements, but I wanted to play around with them, I wasn't completely closed off and not open to other ideas.
The experiences I had really enabled me to take the chances I had and make the best of them. You know when Universal did sign me and I did my first showcase, I didn't choke because I had played so many gigs, I knew how to play to audiences. I pulled it off and that was really importanthaving that experience because these days, you shove a new artist in front of a showcase audience and they freak out. I probably did five or six hundred gigs before my first showcase and that was pretty easy compared to playing a wedding gig.