AS the year – and indeed the decade we’re now calling the noughties – draws to a close, many of use will be pondering the highs and lows, scouring lists of best films, albums and the like and generally wondering where it all went.
For Jamie Cullum, there are two clear highlights of 2009.
“For one, I’d have to say that the growing pace of internet access has meant that bands and musicians have been able to throw out the rule book when it comes to getting their music heard,” he says. “Bands are able to make their songs available globally and gain prominence that way.”
Sensible. But it’s not a patch on the second.
“On a personal level I’d have to say that collaborating with Clint Eastwood earlier this year was certainly a career high.”
Clint Eastwood? Cullum, in true Dennis Waterman style, wrote the theme tune and recorded the theme tune for the Hollywood legend’s acclaimed Gran Torino film. How come?
“Clint’s son, Kyle, is a great jazz double bass player who divides his time between Paris and London,” says Cullum.
“And when he’s in London, as he knows most people on the circuit, we usually meet up and play. Anyway, Kyle had heard the demo of this song that I’d written with James Blunt in mind, and passed it to his dad.
“Next thing I know I’m sat in Clint Eastwood’s lounge in Hollywood playing the song live with Clint in the room!”
No pressure then?
“I tell you, if this had all happened ten years ago I’d have been bricking it! But he obviously liked it – it’s in his film.”
Cullum first caught the public eye with his first album proper, Pointless Nostalgic, in 2002. Containing an eclectic mix of jazz standards and inspired original compositions, it gave him the springboard every successful career needs.
A pivotal appearance on Parkinson closely followed and before he knew it the musician people were calling ‘Sinatra In Sneakers’ had bagged himself a million-pound recording contract.
Six years later and Cullum has just released his latest album The Pursuit. It’s been universally acclaimed and with a hit single to boot – I’m All Over It – critics are calling it his most accomplished work to date.
With The Pursuit you appear, I say to him, to have pleased all the people all the time. How have you done that?
“What I’ve tried to do is write and record a bunch of songs that reflect the real world I live in. Depending on your point of view, some might say it’s not jazzy enough or not poppy enough but I didn’t want to make what I call an identikit album.”
Cullum has a knack of giving a new lease of life to songs you perhaps wouldn’t expect him to cover. Think High And Dry by Radiohead or Pharrell Williams’ Frontin’ and you begin to glimpse the man’s influences. I tell him I can hear Cole Porter in there together with a dash of Miles Davis and even Elvis Costello.
“You’d be right – they’re all musical heroes of mine together with Portishead, Ben Folds, Arcade Fire, Esbjorn Svennson Trio – they make for unlikely bedfellows but if you were to listen to my iPod that’s what you’d hear.”
He even covers If I Ruled The World – made famous by Tony Bennett and Harry Secombe.
“What I’ve tried to do is bring it into the 21st Century and at the same time make it darker.”
He’s not wrong – with a funeral drumbeat it owes more to trip-hop than lounge crooning.
“To give things a twist I sometimes like to make happy songs sad and sad songs happy.”
Cullum has played all over the world and I ask him where he feels most at home – in a small jazz club, where you can see the whites of people’s eyes, or the arenas? He’s played some of the biggest stages any musician has ever walked on – Glastonbury Festival (twice) and The Hollywood Bowl to name but two.
“To me it’s all about communicating with the audience. As much as I love the intimacy of small clubs, if I can reach out to the crowd then I don’t really mind where I play.”