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Jamie Cullum And 'The Pursuit' Of Jazz, New And Old

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Jamie Cullum And 'The Pursuit' Of Jazz, New And Old

Jamie Cullum And 'The Pursuit' Of Jazz, New And Old

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Jamie Cullum, diminutive, percussive, intense, has sold more jazz records in the U.K. than any other British artist.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: It was 2003 when his album "Twentysomething" came out.

(Soundbite of song, "Twentysomething")

Mr. JAMIE CULLUM (Jazz Musician): (Singing) I don't want to get up just in the light. Leave me alone, I'm a 20-something.

LYDEN: Since then, he's sold over four million records, been nominated for a Grammy and two Golden Globes. Jamie Cullen is now 30-something -just - and he's here to talk about his latest album, "The Pursuit."

(Soundbite of song, "Twentysomething")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) I'm sorry to say I didn't know her name. In fact, the last six hours are a haze. We sang together the fragments of a frame, why my motor skills are out of phase.

LYDEN: Jamie Cullum, it is a great pleasure to have you in the studio with us.

Mr. CULLUM: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

LYDEN: Let's talk about your music. You are a border crosser extraordinaire. You've introduced your own jazz features on this album, you've covered a couple of jazz numbers. Are you trying to reach a younger audience who maybe thinks chairman of the board stands for B-O-R-E-D, meaning Sinatra?

Mr. CULLUM: I think it's a little less considered than that, as you'll probably begin to realize pretty much everything I do is quite unconsidered. I never really thought about it much before. I used to think about it perhaps when I was very early on playing in jazz clubs and I looked around the audience and there weren't a lot of young people around.

And I think gradually kind of word got out about the kind of music I was playing, the kind of performances, so I gradually attracted a younger audience.

LYDEN: Let's listen to something. Why don't you choose anything you like from this album.

Mr. CULLUM: Oh wow, that's a tough question. Well, okay. I guess it's a fairly good example of what I'm talking about. On the album, I've done this cover of this Rihanna song, "Don't Stop the Music."

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Stop the Music")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) It's getting late, I'm making my way over to my favorite place. I gotta get my body moving, shake the stress away. I wasn't looking for nobody when you looked my way, a simple kind of day. Who knew that you'd be up in here looking like you do...

(Speaking) This is me trying to channel my understanding of Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, with an understanding and a love of great modern pop kind of R&B dance music.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Stop the Music")

RIHANNA (Singer): (Singing) You're (unintelligible) over here, impossible, baby, I must say your aura is incredible, if you don't have to go, don't. Do you know what you started? I just come here to party, but now we're rocking on the dance floor, acting naughty...

LYDEN: I want to get back to your own work and your musical heritage, if you will. You come from a somewhat musical family. Your mom...

Mr. CULLUM: I think that's a good way to describe it, a somewhat musical family. I mean, my grandmother, although I didn't see much of it while she was alive, was by all accounts a very musical person. My grandfather, who I didn't meet, died before I was born, was believed to be a violin player. My aforementioned grandmother actually ended up playing guitar in a bar in Berlin as she was escaping Nazi Germany.

LYDEN: What a wonderful, inspirational story.

Mr. CULLUM: Yes, it really is, but it never featured in her life really when I knew her. She was very much someone who'd left her past behind her, I think. She lost a great deal of her family during that time. Back to my parents, you know, my mom always sang in choir in church and my dad played three chords on the guitar.

But it was really, it was my brother, my older brother Ben who was the one who became a musician. I admired him and wanted to be him, so...

LYDEN: And you and Ben collaborate a lot and a lot on this album.

Mr. CULLUM: We do. He writes songs for other people. That's his kind of day-to-day job. He also plays in a band that is a mixture of rock music and electronic music.

LYDEN: Is this his influence on "The Music is Through," would you say?

Mr. CULLUM: I think definitely. This is a song that we wrote when we were working on this kind of house music thing we were just working on for our own pure amusement.

(Soundbite of song, "The Music is Through")

Mr. CULLUM: I never thought any of it ended up on this record, but I loved this song so much that I ended up just making a version of it and putting it on this record.

(Soundbite of song, "The Music is Through")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) If you wanna get me, then you gotta pin me down. If you sang, you say it's free, in a sweat I could drown. If you look like you wanna, baby, I don't mind if I do, do, do...

LYDEN: Well, it makes me want to move, I have to say.

(Soundbite of song, "The Music is Through ")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) ...like you wanna, baby, I don't mind if I do, do, do. Girl, I got your number, call you when I'm...

LYDEN: I'm speaking with the British jazz musician and singer Jamie Cullum, and it is great to have you here in the studio.

Mr. CULLUM: Thank you.

LYDEN: I read that you keep musical instruments in your kitchen.

Mr. CULLUM: I do. I have a piano in my kitchen. I read a great biography about Tom Waits that said that he had a piano in his kitchen, he had a grand piano in his kitchen. And I thought, well, if Tom Waits has one, then I must. So I actually got it off eBay, a little upright piano. They're called ship pianos. They're like half-sized upright pianos, spinets. And I have it next to the fridge. So it's right next to - you can grab beer and play it.

LYDEN: Very nice.

Mr. CULLUM: And I want to ask you about the last song on the album, "Gran Torino."

(Soundbite of song, "Gran Torino")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) Realign all the stars, above my head, the warning signs travel far. I drink instead (unintelligible) I know the battle scars and worn out beds (unintelligible) the breeze blows, whispers through Gran Torino...

LYDEN: It's from the film of the same name, of course. You collaborated with Clint Eastwood and you were nominated for a Golden Globe. It wasn't the first time that you'd worked with him. How'd the two of you meet?

Mr. CULLUM: We met through his son, Kyle Eastwood. I've known Kyle Eastwood - he's a great bass player; he has his own kind of band and stuff and makes his own records, and he collaborates a lot with his father on the scores for his movies.

So basically they'd written the score for this film, "Grace is Gone," and they had lyrics written by someone else, and I think they needed someone to kind of bridge the gap between helping make the score and the lyrics into a song. And I helped with that bit, mainly just for the demo of the song. I think it was supposed to go a much more famous singer than me.

(Soundbite of song, "Grace is Gone")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) Can't find all the words yet, it's still not the time yet. And my mind can't think of anything. It only sees you...

LYDEN: You also wrote the score to the stage versions of "When Harry Met Sally."

Mr. CULLUM: Yeah. This was a really fun thing to do. I'm a really big fan of the theater. And, of course, you know, "Harry Met Sally" is really Harry Connick, Jr.'s domain. And I just thought, what a great opportunity to rerecord "It Has to be You," which was probably the first big band song I ever heard, when I was 12 or 13, you know, I really heard and I really liked. It was really fun and I'd love to do more.

(Soundbite of song, "It Had to be You")

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) It had to be you, it had to be you. I wandered around and finally found the somebody who could make me be true...

LYDEN: You know, "It Had to be You" is one of the songs I feel - I'm not going to do it here - kind of feel really, really comfortable singing, and I happened to sing it for my 35th birthday in London...

Mr. CULLUM: (Unintelligible)

LYDEN: ...for my friends.

Mr. CULLUM: Why are you not going to do it now?

LYDEN: So, you know, only if you do it with me.

Mr. CULLUM: Okay.

LYDEN: Okay. Can we try?

Mr. CULLUM: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

LYDEN: (Singing) It had to be you...

LYDEN: and Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) It had to be you...

Mr. CULLUM: Oh, that's very low for me.

LYDEN: and Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) I wandered around, and finally found somebody who could make me feel true, yet made me be blue.

Mr. CULLUM: Oh, it's so low.

LYDEN: That's enough.

Mr. CULLUM: That's beautiful. I love it, I love it.

LYDEN: I'm sorry I'm so low for you.

Mr. CULLUM: We should release that as a single.

LYDEN: I think, yeah, I think maybe you need me to sit in on your next album.

So, you call the album "The Pursuit." What else do you want to pursue?

Mr. CULLUM: You know, and I think that's the great thing about being a musician, and that's one of the reasons I called it "The Pursuit," is because, you know, as a musician you never get to the finish line. There are goals along the way but you never finish it. So it is this constant pursuit, one that I wake up every day wanting to get better at and wanting to make better music, 'cause I think as soon as I finish this album I had new ideas about the next one. So there's plenty to pursue.

LYDEN: I'm very excited to hear that, and it has been an absolute delight having you here. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Mr. CULLUM: Thank you so much. It's great to speak to you.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) You remember everything you thought your love would be. Well, it's fallen through the cracks of ancient history...

LYDEN: Jamie Cullum. His new album is called "The Pursuit" and he'll be touring around North America.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CULLUM: (Singing) Whoa, is it something that I never, something that I never had. Whoa...

LYDEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I had to be blue. I'm Jackie Lyden. Scott Simon will be back next week.

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