Canwest News Service
It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday — early by jazz-world standards, as Jamie Cullum is woefully aware. His band, with whom he played Massey Hall two days before, are apparently relaxing at their next tour stop, having left the singer and pianist behind in Toronto to promote his new album, The Pursuit.
“They get to sleep 36 hours in a row and drink beer all the time,” Cullum sighs. In contrast, he’s getting a caffeine infusion from a cappuccino latte at Yorkville’s Sassafraz. “I’m just trying to stay on top of singing two hours a night and be up for 7 a.m. television appearances — it’s a challenge. Who the hell is watching TV then?”
Cullum grins as he says this — he’s so relentlessly upbeat, it seems he’s congenitally incapable of complaining. His hair has a just-got-out-of-bed look, but then again, it always does; he’s clear-eyed, attentive and nattily attired in a black suit and gleaming dress shoes. He’s also still beaming about his Massey Hall show, during which, in addition to his usual crowd-pleasing manoeuvres — jumping off the top of the piano and playing percussion on its frame — he and his quartet strolled down the venue’s centre aisle to play a mash-up of Dinah Washington’s Cry Me a River with Justin Timberlake’s song of the same name. Cullum climbed onto the arms of an empty chair and sang, sans microphone, up to the balconies.
He was paying tribute to the hall, he says: “It’s a nod to history, proving that playing your instruments dynamically can really work in a room like that. . .. You’re making people experience the music how it would sound in their living room.”
Despite routinely playing large venues — he’s now the U.K.’s biggest- selling jazz artist ever — Cullum has an affinity for intimate spaces. Much of The Pursuit was written in the London kitchen he shares with his wife, writer and TV chef Sophie Dahl. Setting up a piano there forced him to disconnect a radiator, he notes, but “I decided I would take the ability to write songs next to a fridge full of beer over being warm.”
For Cullum, writing music, cooking and drinking are all sociable activities, and the more ingredients he can introduce — as in the “stewy” curries he likes to conjure up — the better. Musical sous-chefs on the genre-bending album include Beck’s band, Katy Perry’s producer and the Count Basie Orchestra, among others. As adventurous as his music has become, his listening tastes range even further. Down the street at Atelier Grigorian, he marvels at a vinyl copy of Max Roach’s We Insist!, which he describes as “amazing protest jazz with lots of screaming.” Committed to travelling light, though, he leaves empty-handed and wanders across the street to Anti-Hero, where he rummages through racks of cutting-edge clothes.
For his drummer’s birthday, he picks out a long-sleeved grey T-shirt by London-based label Religion with a logo of a skeleton praying. A dark image, perhaps, but despite Cullum’s jealousy of his bandmates’ partying, the shirt is a heartfelt gift: “We have a lot of fun together,” he says, “based on musicianship and camaraderie.”
Soon, he’ll be able to rejoin them, but now, he’s off to do a radio interview. “My brain’s fried,” he says, but he’s still smiling.