Retro Never Was So Chic: Jamie Cullum

NAPOLEAN WASN’T CONENT with France and, standing at only 5 feet 4 inches, Jamie Cullum’s empire advances past the 88 keys. Make it to any of the jazz artist’s live shows, and there’s a good chance the shaggy-haired Cullum will be slapping out a rhythm on the frame and walking around the top as this prolific performer treats all parts of the grand piano like a private playground.

It’s a hypnotic spectacle that regularly finds the Dior-clad sprite dancing across the stage — belting out a mixture of jazz standards, tender originals and breathtaking re-imaginings of pop anthems.

“I think it’s confidence,” said Cullum on stylistic differences in his fifth studio album. “I think I’ve always hinted at the eclecticism in my albums … but I think that this time, with a few albums under my belt and an audience ready to listen, and an all-the-more experienced head on my shoulders led to me not being afraid to push as hard as I can in each direction.”

At the age of 30, Cullum is the best-selling jazz artist in the U.K., although crossover has been the story since Cullum first touched the ivories at the age of 8.

“In the jazz festival context, it brings a certain kind of anarchy,” said Cullum. “And then, in the rock festival, you bring a certain complexity and improvisation and musicality and things that aren’t usually present.”

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Releasing just 500 copies of “Heard It All Before” in 1999, Cullum resorted to self-financing his first album. Hard work, a little rock ‘n’ roll and a few years of university later, Cullum released the covers-heavy “Pointless Nostalgia” in 2002 and hasn’t hurt for work since. Cullum’s next outing, “Twentysomething,” found the 24-year-old perfecting his mixture of old and new. There were awards, a fearless scat-spitting performance in front of the queen, another album (“Catching Tales”) and a break.

Well, sort of. He took a break from his break to get into DJing, accept a Golden Globe nomination with a man named Clint — Cullum wrote the title track for “Gran Torino” — and a get the girl (writer Roald Dahl’s granddaughter Sophie).

This self-described “human jukebox” didn’t abandon the covers — mixing old horns (Cole Porter) and new beats (Rihanna) — but there’s a sharper edge to the charm. Starting with the standard jazz-pop of his first single, “I’m All Over It,” Cullum moves into the hooks of rock, the stutters of R&B and swirls of trance-inspiring dance music.

» 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Sun. Mar. 7, 7 p.m., sold out; 877-435-9849. (U St.-Cardozo)

Written by Express’ Nathan Martin


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