Sinatra in sneakers flies on fancy

KYLIE NORTHOVER
April 16, 2010

ON HIS first tour of Australia in four years, British jazz-pop singer Jamie Cullum plays the National Theatre tonight, but he can’t be sure exactly how the show will go.

Renowned for his high-energy gigs, be it at the keyboard or bounding around stage, Cullum never works to a set list.

”It just goes wrong when I try to,” he says. ”It’s more fun without. I occasionally play with an orchestra and I have to have a set list – it’s really hard.”

After a break from touring for the past couple of years, Cullum has been building his recording studio, scoring the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino and tying the knot (to model and TV presenter Sophie Dahl). Now he’s back on the road, having just played in Asia.

”Every show so far has been amazing,” he says.

”There’s that freshness of a new album and because I took time away it’s fresher for me.”

His new album, The Pursuit, mixes up his jazz stylings with trip-hop, soul and funk.

”It’s made with the heart and spirit of a jazz musician, but it’s not always a jazz album,” says Cullum.

”There’s Cole Porter on there, but with the song Love Aint Gonna Get You Down, the relationship to jazz is quite tenuous.

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”The music of Bruce Hornsby, Elton John, Ben Folds – there’s real jazz in what they do, but they also like the Beatles. I try to operate somewhere between Herbie Hancock and Ben Folds.”

The ”Sinatra in sneakers” has sold more than 4 million albums, and his jazz-ified covers (Radiohead, White Stripes, Kanye West) have become something of a trademark.

One band fans won’t see him covering these days is AC/DC.

”I was in an AC/DC cover band, yes,” he says. ” I was still in school, so I had the outfit all sorted.”

Tonight he’ll play a mix of his hits and songs from the new album, some of which seem more loved-up than usual. Is this a newlywed thing?

”People focus on the love songs, but there’s a hefty load of break-up songs on there. I tend to write songs about imaginary situations, love songs, break-up songs, or about music – that’s it, really,” he says. ”I could write about food more, I suppose. Maybe a song about sausages?”

Jamie Cullum plays the National Theatre, St Kilda, tonight. The Pursuit is out now.

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