By: CATHERINE KUSTANCZY
Published: March 14th 2010
Jamie Cullum Pic: UniversalThe pint-sized English jazz musician, coming off a of wildly received, near sold-out concert at Massey Hall, engaged in a keynote question and answer session at the Royal York Hotel during the week-long music industry hoedown. With four albums under his belt and numerous awards and citations, Cullum is Britain’s top-selling jazz artist ever. With his Beatles-esque haircut, translucent skin, and natty suit, Cullum came off every inch the 21st century musician, liberally throwing in references, both verbal and musical, to hip-hop, pop, metal, and classic jazz sounds.
Cullum comes by his musical pedigree honestly; his paternal grandmother was a Jewish refugee from Prussia who performed in Berlin nightclubs, and he has referred to her in interviews as his “cultural icon.” As a child, Cullum voraciously consumed every ounce of musical inspiration he could find, living on a diet of Metallica and Slayer (he told the assembled crowd at the Royal York that he’d “fast-forward to the guitar solos”) and later Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Raised in the English countryside, he would bicycle to the annual Glastonbury festival, soaking up a variety of styles and sounds that would later be manifest in his own unique work (and later showcased at Glastonbury itself, in 2004 and 2009).
Though known primarily as a jazz musician, Cullum’s sound is much wider than a simple regurgitation of standards. He showed off his uncanny ability to mix sounds to the CMW crowd, doing an organic mash-up of the old classic “Singin in the Rain” (made famous by Gene Kelly) with Rihanna’s monster-pop-hit “Umbrella.” The result was dreamy and contemplative, and a wonderful showcase of Cullum’s deft ear for sounds and rhythms.
This predilection for rhythm made itself known when lugubrious host Ralph Simon questioned Cullum about his use of a stompbox, something the English singer/songwriter was inspired to start using after seeing Spearhead frontman Michael Franti use one in a live show. Essentially just a wooden box with a microphone inside of it, Cullum frequently used it to bash out a beat, creating a kind of bouncy rhythmic interplay between melodic and percussive elements. Cullum also wasn’t shy about tapping on, in, and around the piano itself, using his bare hands to slap and smack the instrument back to its percussive roots. “Me and the piano are always in an argument,” he confessed.