11 October 2014
Jamie Cullum used to walk past Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho and get excited for the day he’d see his name in lights. To a devotee like Cullum, the iconic Soho haunt signifies the pot of gold at the end of the jazz rainbow and, incidentally, it’s the London venue he says he holds closest to his heart.
Now, aged 35 - ten years and six albums into a career that has seen him turn his hand to a myriad styles from classic singer-songwriting to pop and even touches of hip-hop; he's not only living out his dream, he's doing it to a standing ovation.
The gushing broadsheet reviews for his new album, Interlude, suggest more than a degree of acceptance from the jazz cognoscenti, but Cullum says he’s never been interested in winning them over, or anyone else for that matter. “It should never ever be an impetus for doing anything creative - you just have to do stuff that feels right,” he says.
Jamie Cullum was born in Essex and brought up in Wiltshire, but his father was born in Jerusalem and his mother in Burma, so they had decidedly different upbringings to him and his brother. He says this may have had some effect on their career choice at first. “I don’t think they were very happy with us choosing music initially – they were very much of the opinion that it’s good to know a trade - but as soon as they could see how much we both loved it then they were nothing but encouraging.”
Cullum released his first album Heard It All Before, pre-major record deal in 1999, and his biggest-selling album to date, Catching Tales, in 2005. In 2007, he scooped the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Award for ‘Best British Male’, and has hosted a Radio 2 jazz show for the past four and half years - every Tuesday from 7pm. Last month Cullum knocked his audience for six at his duo of Ronnie Scott’s gigs, but is still referring to Interlude as his “first proper jazz album.” “I kind of wish I hadn’t said that now, as I realise that it might actually sound a little disingenuous!” he laughs. “But what I actually meant is that it’s the first album I’ve made of this type which draws only from jazz repertoire. There are some real artist touchstones to this record; Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane and Ray Charles are some of my favourite jazz artists of all-time and a lot of this album is very influenced by them.”
Cullum says he is quite overwhelmed by the support that Interlude – which marks a notable change in direction - has already received, especially from the purists and fans of his previous records. “Responses to this LP have been better than anything else, certainly from what I can tell on Facebook and all the social media stuff that I’m connected to anyway. And believe me, people tell you if they don’t like stuff!”
He continues. “It’s just been fantastic, really great. The reviews have been great, the live shows for this album have been really well received in the UK and Europe and we just came back from America and it’s going really well there as well. Truthfully, I wish it could always be like this!”
Interlude was recorded last year and produced by former DJ Ben (Benedic) Lamdin, who is a go-to producer for contemporary British jazz musicians. It features a multitude of engineers and musicians, from Laura Mvula to Grammy-Award winning US jazz singer Gregory Porter and covers a range of songs, including Randy Newman’s ‘Losing You’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” first recorded by Nina Simone in 1964, and the new album’s debut single. Cullum performed it as a duet live with Porter on Strictly Come Dancing at the beginning of the month.
“The great thing about being on Strictly is it’s one of those TV shows that when you walk onto the set it feels like you just jumped into your television,” exclaims Cullum. “It looks exactly like it does when you’re there as it does when you see it on the TV. It all feels very glamorous and very Strictly-ish! I mean, is anyone not a fan of Strictly?! It’s one of those things – it’s a bit like the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4; it’s just always there. It’s something that you assumed is always on; it’s in the bloodstream of us all and it’s always a pleasure to be on it.”
London Calling asks Jamie if he has plans to slip into a pair of dancing shoes himself. “Hell, no!”
Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our weekly newsletter