By CURTIS ROSS
Published: July 8, 2010
CLEARWATER – Five songs into his set Tuesday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, British pianist-singer Jamie Cullum had covered Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim, and gone from hard swinging jazz to pop to funk worthy of the Average White Band, if not George Clinton.
Cullum doesn’t care for pigeonholing, which may be why he drew a crowd of only 803.
But if missing a sellout by a considerable distance bothered him, he didn’t let it show. Cullum was an energetic showman, jumping atop and off his piano, a considerable feat given his short stature. He displayed a charming, self-effacing wit and boundless energy to boot.
Opening with Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” Cullum all but dispensed with the melody in favor of a fat, swinging bass line. Unlike the neo-crooners with whom he’s often lumped stylistically, Cullum can play real jazz.
But he’s also a songwriter, capable of sweetly funny nostalgia (“Photograph”) and self-referential humor (“Twentysomething”). He covered Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and built one song on a sampled loop of his own Biz Markie-style beat-boxing.
His stellar four-piece band featured a two-man horn section that also handled guitar, keyboards and percussion. He brought them into the aisle for “Cry Me a River” (Julie London’s, but with a bit of Justin Timberlake’s thrown in for good measure), which he sang mostly sans microphone, and on which his drummer played an amazing solo with only a snare and a pair of sticks.
The only misstep was a well-intentioned “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” which just doesn’t sound right sung by a nonnative.