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The Jazz Singer

A Q&A with jazz phenom Jamie Cullum.

Ever since his album, “Twentysomething,” went platinum in the U.K. this year, making it the fastest-selling jazz album in the country’s history, 24-year-old Jamie Cullum has racked up a list of impressive, if not diverse, comparisons. The Brits dubbed him the “David Beckham of jazz” and “Sinatra in sneakers,” while U.S. critics have labeled him the “male Norah Jones.” One element they all agree upon, however, is the power of his electrifying live performances and his raw talent. “I’m more Mick Jagger than Frank Sinatra,” says the self-taught musician, who’s been known to pound the piano keys with his sneakers. He performs tonight at the Knitting Factory and on Wednesday at Joe’s Pub. His album, which hits Stateside today, includes original material along with his jazz-inspired covers?of Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Cole Porter. Here, he sounds off on what being a phenomenon is all about.

WWD: How would you describe your music?

This story first appeared in the May 11, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Jamie Cullum: I’ve been called cabaret this and jazz crooner that and pop jazz crossover. What I do is based in jazz, but the only reason I play jazz is because it enables me to play rock and to play pop and to play lots of other things. I would say it’s kind of music, how’s that?

WWD: How do you feel about the Norah Jones comparison?

J.C.: I think it’s been given to me by people who have never seen me live or heard my record. We both play the piano and have black hair and sing. I guess it’s because there’s a jazzy association and we’re both young. Norah’s influences are country artists. I grew up listening to Public Enemy and Kurt Cobain and the Beastie Boys and Guns N’ Roses. That’s really the influence that pervades what I do.

WWD: You’re known for your wild performances. What happens to you on stage?

J.C.: It’s a very spontaneous thing. I just let myself go at the expense of looking like an idiot all the time and getting really hot and sweaty and not being very classy. I take my T-shirt off and do really uncool things like that. It’s not very pretty, but it’s certainly quite fun to watch, I hope.

WWD: Who would you most like to jam with, past or present?

J.C.: I’ll have Stevie Wonder on piano and backup vocals, Miles Davis on trumpet and Pharrell Williams on drums. I’ll have Jacko Pastorius on bass. I’ll have Leadbelly on guitar or maybe Hendrix. I’ll have Bob Dylan on harmonica. And Quincy Jones will produce the whole thing.

WWD: How do the audiences differ between the U.S. and the U.K.?

J.C.: In England, over half the jazz audiences are people under 20. In the States, jazz is still perceived as being old-fashioned. I’m not interested in being an old-fashioned, nostalgic artist. I don’t want to be Sinatra. I’d much rather be Andre 3000.

WWD: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

J.C.: With five more albums under my belt that are five times as good as the other ones. My main goal is just to get much better. It’s a cliché, but I like playing music. I don’t want to get f—ed up with all the other stuff.

— Alison Burwell

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