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Interview with Jamie Cullum: No stopping the music

By Zaki JufriEvents - 25 February 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 5:05 PM

Interview with Jamie Cullum: No stopping the music

It is difficult to get a bead on Jamie Cullum.

The British singer-songwriter who once described himself as having the “soul of a jazz musician” just defies any genres or labels that has been ascribed to him.

The Essex-born artiste, who last performed in Singapore in 2010, will be back for the gala opening show of the inaugural Singapore International Jazz Festival (Sing Jazz) held at the Marina Bay Sands on 27 February. 

The double-bill show will also feature a set by Australian jazz trumpet player James Morrison and the Festival Big Band.

While most of his contemporaries play to the popular image of jazz as being associated with the older set, Cullum has repeatedly done something extraordinary with his music – to capture the zeitgeist of youth, and in doing so, he has become a revolutionary figurehead of sorts.

The 33-year-old singer culls influences from pop, hip hop, rock and electronic dance music into his brand of music, found in 2003’s ‘Twentysomething’ to last year’s ‘The Momentum’.

The Golden Globe nominee is renowned for his radical approach to jazz: using the body of an instrument to produce beats and rhythms, as well as his inventive way of re-imagining covers (he has covered songs from the likes of Radiohead, The White Stripes, Massive Attack and Kanye West).

MAKING HIS SHORTLIST

In an interview with inSing, Cullum said the songs have “to punch him in the gut and get under his fingers without even thinking about it” before it makes his shortlist. 

While purists may turn their noses up at his unapologetic “crossover” leanings, it all works. ‘Twentysomething’ sold four million copies worldwide and made him the bestselling British jazz artiste of all time. To date, he has sold more than 10 million records. 

“I’ve always loved music and wanted to get involved in all genres of music,” Cullum said.

“I found jazz really tapped into my desire to be a great musician. I’ve only ever seen jazz in its youthful context. It’s either young people playing it, or older people with the spirit of a teenager,” he added.

‘Momentum’, Cullum’s sixth studio album, is perhaps one of his boldest projects yet. A powder-keg of explosive covers and original material, the album sees the singer confidently shedding his “crossover” skin.

CHALLENGE OF KEEPING FANS’ ATTENTION

This reinvention is timely, considering that it has been 15 years since his debut album, ‘Heard It All Before’.

“I think any musician will face the challenge of keeping people’s attention now that there are so many distractions, and music is considered more of a background to so many other pursuits,” Cullum said.

“The impetus for creating the album came mostly from the rush of original songs that seemed to flow out of me at this time. I realised they needed their own space and album to exist. I just tried to think less and just make music from the heart,” he added.

Possibly one of the best examples of the future of the genre will be ‘Love For Sale’, a bold remake of Cole Porter’s standards from ‘The Great American Songbook’. 

Produced by American hip-hop producer Dan The Automator and featuring British rapper Roots Manuva, the song takes on a visceral edge and it clearly underlines the path that Cullum is taking with his music.

“It came out of an improvisation I did with a loop pedal onstage. Most ideas come like that through a mad improvisation. Also, it is a nod to the way I discovered jazz -- through hip hop,” Cullum exclaimed proudly.

There is also a clear difference in Cullum’s singing in the new album. Although it lends itself to the more traditional style found in previous albums, his tone in ‘Momentum’ is more experimental, and that seems to push his music to a place beyond jazz.

Cullum
Cullum (right) with wife Sophie Dahl. Photo: AFP

FATHERHOOD

In an interview with music magazine Nothing But Hope and Passion, Cullum said that the album is about the transition of a young man into adulthood, balancing childish fantasies with grand and epic responsibilities.

Indeed, these past years have seen Cullum dealing with epic responsibilities as he is father to two daughters Lyra and Margot, born in 2011 and 2013 respectively. He is married to writer and former model Sophie Dahl.

Being a parent has certainly changed his world view, and Cullum admitted that he now has a sharper perspective of his surroundings. 

“The way I spend my time (in the studio and at home) is very different, but I also feel I have a fresher view of the world. You see it through your child’s eyes,” he told inSing.

His career is not slowing down one bit, as he crisscrosses the globe for the world tour of his ‘Momentum’ album, and hosts his weekly jazz show on BBC radio.

Recently, he presented a three-part radio documentary, ‘Piano Pilgrimage’, where he travels around the United Kingdom to explore piano’s place in modern society.

“(Having a weekly jazz radio show) I am more aware than ever that jazz is alive and healthy with plenty of young musicians pushing it forward into fresh, genre-bending ways. It’s exciting,” he said. 

Catching a jazz performance, he said, is the best way to get a young person interested in the genre.

“See it live. That’s the thrill. Watching a musician improvise is like watching Muhammed Ali box or Pele score a goal. 

Singapore International Jazz Festival (2014) featuring Jamie Cullum & James Morrison with the Festival Big Band | Venue: MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue |  Date: 27 February 2014 | Time: From 6.30pm | Tickets: $90 to $1,324 from www.sistic.com.sg

Singapore International Jazz Festival (2014) featuring James Morrison with All Star Big Band Jamie Cullum and more

Singapore International Jazz Festival (2014) featuring James Morrison with All Star Big Band Jamie Cullum and more

Date Feb 27, 2014

VenueEvent Plaza, MasterCard Theatres

Ticket PriceS$90.00 - S$330.00
 (excludes booking fee)