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In Constant Pursuit
Jamie Cullum

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In Constant Pursuit Jamie Cullum

12.07.2018

Article: Leyla Aksu
Illustration: Saydan Akşit  

Settling into the melodic space between jazz and pop with catching enthusiasm since his debut in 1999, British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Cullum has since become the most successful jazz act in UK history. Known for his diverse covers and unexpected collaborations, as well as increasingly for his own compositions, Cullum’s career has delivered an influx of different styles over the course of his seven albums. Here we take a quick look at the artist’s life and music in his own words, before he brings his celebrated on-stage spontaneity to this year’s International Akbank Jazz Festival.

-An ardent and self-professed fan of all music, from pop and rock to jazz and hip-hop, all embraced within his own musical output, Cullum also hails from a musical family. Listing to a diverse array of artists from Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, and Wynton Marsalis to Tom Waits, DJ Shadow, and A Tribe Called Quest among his many influences, he still places his brother and frequent collaborator Ben Cullum at the top of the list: “It was really my brother Ben who made it a very musical house… and he taught me to be very open minded about all styles; there were no boundaries at all.”

-Taking part in a slew of bands throughout his younger years and playing guitar and drums in addition to the piano, Cullum began performing live with increasing frequency while still a student, releasing his successful debut with the Jamie Cullum Trio, Heart It All, at the age of 19. Following up with back-to-back releases Pointless Nostalgic for Universal in 2002 and the platinum-certified Twentysomething the following year, the latter saw Cullum claiming the title of best-selling jazz artist in the United Kingdom.

-Cullum then came out with 2005’s Catching Tales and 2009’s The Pursuit, by which point he was already highly recognized for his dynamic and lengthy performances across the world: “I’m not the greatest singer, and I don’t look like Justin Timberlake, but I think I can communicate on stage.” Standing at or even on his piano with nary a set list, Cullum has since taken the stage at countless festivals, performing alongside names like Kylie Minogue, Darren Emerson (Underworld), Corinne Bailey Rae, and Burt Bacharach.

-Releasing his sixth full-length, Momentum, a more pop-focused affair, in 2013 with producers Dan the Automator (Kasabian, Gorillaz), Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele), and Duncan Mills (Lamb, Malcolm McLaren), Cullum’s most recent release is 2014’s Interlude. Recorded live over the course of just three days and more heavily steeped in jazz, the album came together as “a celebration of…young, British, under-the-radar, shit-hot jazz musicians” that Cullum met through his ongoing radio show on which he has also hosted legends like Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, Paul McCartney, and Clint Eastwood--the latter with whom he collaborated on the film Grand Torino, earning a Golden Globe nomination in 2009.

-Easily navigating between jazz standards, covers of contemporary songs, and, increasingly, his own original pieces throughout his career, Cullum has always championed the versatility of jazz: "At first I didn't think certain songs had a place in what I was doing with this jazz music, but I've realized that everything does, and it reaffirms my belief that jazz is the greatest platform to do whatever you want. People ask why I play jazz, and it's because you can take it to so many different places."

-As such, over the years, his roster of adventurous covers has grown to include songs from artists as varied as the White Stripes, Massive Attack, Rihanna, Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West, Radiohead, Elton John, Gnarls Barkley, Joy Division, and John Legend. And even though “doing covers on new songs in a kind of crazy way is nothing particularly new…this is me trying to channel my understanding of Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, and Herbie Hancock with an understanding--and a love--of great modern pop.”

-However, currently finishing work on his soon-to-be-released eighth full-length, Cullum has said of the new album that he became aware “for the first time the lyrics have been born first, over the chords and the melodies. That is new for me--but it squares up with the idea of trying to communicate something over just musical cleverness of some kind.” Continually evolving almost twenty years after his initial debut, Cullum is sure to be up for the new chapter in his musical journey: “As a musician, you never get to the finish line. There are goals along the way, but you never finish it. It is this constant pursuit, one that I wake up every day wanting to get better at and wanting to make better music.”

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