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Jamie Cullum

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AboutAt 24, Jamie Cullum might seem a little wet behind the ears to be revitalizing contemporary jazz. On the contrary. It is precisely because of his youth that the scruffy, self-taught British pianist/singer/songwriter can produce music to which both seasoned jazz fans and young pop aficionados have responded enthusiastically; twentysomething, his major label debut, has made Jamie a star-setting records as the fastest-selling jazz debut in UK history, where it was certified Platinum in just six weeks.

On twentysomething, Jamie celebrates jazz and and retrofits standards to accommodate elements of the music he grew up with, from rock to rap to drum & bass. Just as gracefully, he recasts the works of contemporary luminaries like Radiohead and Jeff Buckley with a harmonic vocabulary he learned picking through old Gershwin tunes. But this young upstart has drawn raves as more than just an interpreter with a slate of originals, both by Jamie and his older brother, Ben, that draw upon, and reflect, the experiences of his own generation.

It is Jamie's forte as a writer –not just a singer and performer –of songs that has garnered his latest kudos, prompting MOJO magazine to note in its four-star review of twentysomething that "the ace up Cullum's sleeve is the original writing," as showcased on sophisticated pop gems like the wistful first single, "All At Sea" and the driving title track. The disc's title tune sprang from having dinner and drinks with some old friends from university, all of whom seemed to be floundering with the same questions of how to weather their quarter-life crises.
"When I woke up the next morning, I had this idea to write a song about people my age, twentysomethings, not knowing their place in the world, or where to go, and how education doesn't really prepare them for that."
He took a string introduction he'd been working on for another song, sped up the tempo, and the melody for "twentysomething" was conceived.

As for his treatments of standards both old and new, Jamie carves out an individual point of entry for every song that enters his set.
He injects Jimi Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary" with a shot of New Orleans-style funk; his take on "Singin' in the Rain" sidesteps the jaunty bounce of the original for a more relaxed approach, with elongated phrases and a dawn-colored background wash of ambient textures. "I'll only have a crack at something if I can find a totally personal way of doing it," he explains. Take his slow, heartbroken turn through Oscar Levant's "Blame It On My Youth."
"I didn't want to sing it like a voice of experience, like Sinatra. I wanted to sound like a 20-year old who's been burned." When arranging "I Could Have Danced All Night," from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, Jamie jettisoned show tune traditions and concentrated instead on the kind of funky music that could keep him dancing till dawn. "I wanted to do that song like a club track, and find a hooky, pop bass line for it."

As captivating as he is on record, Jamie is a dynamo when he hits the concert stage. He attacks his instrument – not just its ivory keys, but the body and strings as well – with ferocity. This is one player who never forgets that the piano is a percussion instrument. "I've always listened to a lot of dance music, and I love rap and heavy rock music," says Jamie of the origins of his performance style. As a child, he initially rejected playing the piano because he couldn't figure out how to generate the sort of powerful sounds he found in the pop music he loved. He turned to guitar instead. "When I finally got back to the piano, around the age of 12 or 13, and started to take it seriously, the first things I tried to play were boogie-woogie and rock and roll piano, which is nice and loud, and percussive."
Jamie shows are animated affairs. "I just can't wait to get out there and do it," he admits. He walks on stage without a set list, and keeps the proceedings as spontaneous as possible. His prodigous skills in concert have drawn raves in just a handful of stateside performances. "To watch a performer go so fearlessly on his nerve is exciting" said Stephen Holden in† The New York Times, noting "all this energy wouldn't count for that much were it not backed up by raw talent." Following his first ever concert in Los Angeles the Hollywood Reporter dubbed him "A one man British invasion," and Variety said "He plays 'em the way he sees 'em, not according to some book... Cullum shows this music can be presented with a jeans-and-T-shirt, fresh-out-of-college point of view."

Raised in the rural British county of Wiltshire (seat of Stonehenge), Jamie grew up far from the bustle of London, where he resides today. While studying music concurrently with film and media classes at Reading University, he began to build a musical career, juggling bill-paying gigs at weddings and on cruise ships while refining his skills – and discovering his voice as a highly intuitive singer – with outfits like the esteemed Berkshire Jazz Orchestra. With his own money, he cut a demo, entitled Heard It All Before, to sell at shows. His 2002 album, Pointless Nostalgic, and word of his phenomenal live shows sparked a furor of attention that brought Jamie to Universal/Verve, and twentysomething to a worldwide audience.

While the warm, weathered voice, persuasive way with a lyric, and dynamic showmanship of this brash newcomer show Jamie's reverence for timeless songwriting, he sees his aesthetic as sharing more in common with hip-hop and electronic innovators like DJ Shadow: "I'm pulling in loads of elements from all these different areas, and then making my own sound out of them all," he concludes. "I'm not interested in being some kind of museum piece, and I don't want to present my music in a way that's old fashioned. I'm not wearing a suit, and I don't stand still when I'm singing. I'm jumping off the piano."

Jamie's third album, the more layered and varied Catching Tales, was released in September of this year, to high critical acclaim, and the first single was Get Your Own Way. This was followed by Mind Trick.

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