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Jamie Cullum: Mad About Music


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AAJ: I think that it is great for an upcoming artist to have that level of experience. If you look at a show like American Idol so many of the artists do not really know what they are getting into.

JC: That is true, but that is what a show like that is for. I am really fond of the two idols that the show has produced, Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard. They are both really good, they are great singers they are true pop stars. I think the industry needs people like that to mold. One of my favorite songs of last year was "Since You've Been Gone, by Kelly Clarkson, and a song like that can only come from the product of a really good song writer or a really good producer and then a really good singer. Sometimes something that good can only come about when every part is taken care of by the best in their field. I'm not too quick to criticize that kind of show because you have to know what you're getting with them. You're not going to get the next Brad Mehldau but you just might get the next Dionne Warwick, someone with a really great voice for their craft.

AAJ: There is a definite need for more forums to discover new talent. These reality shows can be great platforms in that respect.

JC: It is but it has also made getting discovered even that much harder in some ways because young kids are growing up thinking that that is the only way to get into the music industry. They need to know that they can get out there and play gigs and learn their craft.

AAJ: What do you think when people compare you to crooners of the golden age, and call you "Sinatra in sneakers ? Are you comfortable with that? Is that a validation for you or are you uncomfortable with such comparisons?

JC: When people do say that it is normally because they have seen a clip on television or they have heard about half a track. As soon as you have been to one of my shows or have heard an album all the way through, those common thoughts go out the window.

AAJ: Exactly. Anyone who is not entirely familiar with your music would jump to that conclusion.

JC: Right. They would make that assumption. There are moments of crooning in my shows and then moments of rocking-out, moments of electronica, moments of pop and moments of straight-ahead jazz. You know the crooning aspect is really a very small part of what I do. That includes the repertoire and the approach to singing.

AAJ: You have said before that your music has an intelligent bedrock and an intelligent edge that many people can enjoy, not exclusively jazz aficionados. Does it bother you at all if someone says that your music is not truly jazz? I would think that your very successful career would be a validation to keep doing what you do. You have many fans.

JC: It would bother me if I couldn't do certain things. I have played opposite Coldplay and The White Stripes. I had the chance to play the Newport Jazz Festival opposite Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter. At most of those shows we managed to engage the audiences. We have engaged the rock and pop audiences. The Newport Jazz Festival is probably one of the most famous jazz festivals in the world and we managed to engage the main stage audience with no difficulty.

I am not out to impress the hardcore jazz fans as much as I am not out to impress the hardcore indie rockers. I am just making good music which has a bedrock in jazz, a bedrock in pop, and good song writing. I play with jazz musicians and we improvise and we change the set up, and we do change the way we play the songs. We are also not too proud to play a good groove and stick to it, play harmonies and have fun on stage. If we want to play a certain song then we will do it. That is what makes it special, different and interesting.

If a jazz purist doesn't like it, that's great. He can go back and sit in a dark room and listen to what he does, like I do on a night off. I'll be sitting there listening to Sonny Rollins reissues with no problem, but sometimes, I want to go out there and wrap my head around Queens of The Stone Age. I am a music fan, not a music snob.

AAJ: That is a great distinction—a music fan versus a music snob. Your fans see you at your concerts performing material from George Gershwin and Pharrell Williams to your own compositions. You have to be connected and have a love for music to be able to do that.

JC: Absolutely, the jazz artists that I have always really admired apart from the obvious greats are really the ones who switch it around and don't do what you expect. People like, Dave Douglas, Brad Mehldau, Patricia Barber, people that are not afraid to do what is outside of what jazz aficionados expect them to do. Jazz musicians are very open, but sometimes the audience thinks that for example, Brad Mehldau sits at home and listens to nothing but Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett and that's just not true.

AAJ: In your opinion, what is the best jazz album of all time?

JC: That is an extremely difficult question to answer really. I don't want to go straight to the clichés but, I think one of the first jazz albums I really connected with—you know, as a youngster before I knew anything about jazz, was In a Silent Way (Columbia/Legacy, 1969), by Miles Davis. I know it is not like his most outgoing record, it is very spacey and it is very single chord driven, but there is something about the way that music was put together, it spoke to me in a way that no other music had spoke to me before. I realized that the essence of jazz was in the way that I connected to it: the space, the inter-vibration, the conversation, the spontaneity, and the groove. It wasn't swing and it wasn't funk or fusion, it was just this music that seemed to come from the heart and the brain at the same time. This album—I couldn't quite get my head around it but I knew I loved it, and for that reason I always think of that album as the birth of my real understanding of what jazz is.


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