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In her five-decades-long career, British jazz vocalist Norma Winstone has pioneered, experimented and collaborated to push her music to the cutting edge. She's developed wordless vocals, written her own lyrics, and covered the classics, always ending up with something new.

(Soundbite of song "Every Time We Say Goodbye")

Ms. NORMA WINSTONE (Jazz Vocalist): (Singing) Every time we say goodbye, I die a little...

HANSEN: This is Winstone's cover of Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye." The dark atmosphere of this well-known tune was created by the two other musicians in her trio, Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German clarinetist Klaus Gesing. They recently released a new recording on the ECM label. It's called "Distances." And Norma Winstone joins us from the studios of the BBC Radio Kent in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England. Welcome to the program.

Ms. WINSTONE: Glad to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: It's a treat to talk to you. I have to say that this is my introduction to you. And I could have sworn by the sound of your voice that you were no older than 30.

Ms. WINSTONE: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Do you feel your voice has actually - the evolution of your voice, as you grow older, it seems to be getting younger?

Ms. WINSTONE: Well, I don't know about younger, but I seem to be able to do more what I want to do with it. You know, maybe I'm not trying so hard, also, to do difficult things, you know, which I was as a beginner, you know. I eventually got around to really trying to do something about the sound of my voice.

(Soundbite of song "Every Time We Say Goodbye")

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) There's no love song finer. But how strange the change. From major to minor.

HANSEN: You are known as a modern jazz pioneer, but this recording is also very rooted in tradition. I mean, given the fact that you've chosen to interpret a Cole Porter tune, what kind of effort did you make to balance the past and the present in terms of this recording and your interpretations of this classic?

Ms. WINSTONE: There was no effort, really, to do anything. We got together and recorded things that we liked and the things that we were interested in. Some things we had played before, some we hadn't. I know loads and loads of standards because I was brought up with them. You know, my parents loved them. I was brought up with Sinatra, Lena Horne, long before I knew anything about jazz. I mean, it was just music. And so I learned loads of standards. So they're in there. And I love standards. And I mean, I've never said that I'm a pioneering singer. This is what everybody else writes, because I kind of got for a little while involved in the free jazz movement which happened in the late '60s in London.

HANSEN: Your collaborators are indeed younger than you. And actually, I mean, you're pretty hip. You brought them a 1977 tune by Peter Gabriel.


HANSEN: And there's a reinterpretation of this. It's called "Here Comes The Flood."

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) (Soundbite of song "Here Comes The Flood")

Stranded starfish have no place to hide. Still waiting for the swollen Easter tide...

HANSEN: What inspired you to reinterpret Peter Gabriel's piece?

Ms. WINSTONE: Well, I'm always on the lookout for songs which touch me in some way. And people had often mentioned Peter Gabriel. And I bought a compilation CD of his. And this happened to be on there, "Here Comes The Flood," and it just had a great atmosphere which I felt was right for me. And I thought the other guys would like it. And I played it to them, and they immediately said, oh, yeah, we have to do this one.

(Soundbite of song "Here Comes The Flood")

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) Lord, here comes the flood. We will say goodbye to flesh and blood...

HANSEN: This was such a collaborative effort. I mean, you brought songs to the table, Venier brought songs to the table, Gesing brought songs to the table. There's a song, I want to ask you how to pronounce it. It's "Giant" with a C. It's Italian.

Ms. WINSTONE: Oh, "Ciant."

HANSEN: "Ciant."



Ms. WINSTONE: It's from a poem by Pier Paolo Pasolini who actually comes from the region where Glauco lives, which is north Italy. It's Friuli, and they have their own dialect.

(Soundbite of song "Ciant")

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing in Fiulian dialect)

Ms. WINSTONE: I think it's the song of the bells. And it's all about somebody who's homesick, you know, and hearing the bells and then remembering his village and remembering the frogs, the sound of the frogs, and the moon, and just feeling in - and he feels he's dead with the sound of the bells, which is one of the lines. And so we just cut it just down to "Ciant." But it's a Friulian word.

HANSEN: How did you learn to sing in this very obscure dialect?

Ms. WINSTONE: Well, when you're a pianist who understands it. I mean, he just put it on a recording and taped it for me. And I just listened and - I mean, it's strange really because the whole thing was put to this tune by Eric Satie which was "La Petite Overture a Danser." That was a little piece which Glauco discovered and liked, and we thought we might play it without words or I might write words to it. And then he suddenly had been reading this poem and discovered that it - you could make it fit to the tune. So he did that, and then I learnt it and sang it.

(Soundbite of song "Ciant")

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing in Fiulian dialect)

HANSEN: You write - also write your own lyrics as well as interpreting poems, the lyrics of others, singing, though, in the words that you would choose, and then what you choose to emphasize. I mean, there are some singers that go for the consonant in the delivery. And there are others that go for the vowel. When you're writing, are you cognizant of that? And do you prefer vowels over consonants?

Ms. WINSTONE: I suppose I do, because with the vowel it's more like just a sound of a plain note.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) How can we know where to go. It's anyone's guess. Trust less and less. What we know...

Ms. WINSTONE: I do think of the voice as a sound. And I like the sound to be right. You know, when I'm singing a word, I like it to sound right and not to sound alien to the music or as if it's been added on. I like it to come out of the music. And so, I suppose, well, we mostly sing vowels anyway. All the sounds of vowels are just open sounds, and consonants are really the rhythmic part. We can't really do much with them on their own unless you're making a rhythmic pattern, you know.

HANSEN: You've performed with the trio before, a long time. The trio, when you think about it, you know, the triangle is probably one of the more stable shapes...


HANSEN: In geometry.


HANSEN: However, this new trio, between the time that you recorded some of these tunes on another small label and they got played on the radio, and the time when Manfred Eicher invited you to come in to the studio and make the recording for ECM, two of your legs started to argue with one another a little bit, right? The triangle started to fall apart.

Ms. WINSTONE: Yes. Well, I mean, it's like a family, isn't it? You know, you get arguments in families. One is very Italian, that's all I can say. And the other is quite German, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WINSTONE: So you have sometimes a difference in approach. It was nothing musical. It wasn't a musical argument at all. But when they were having these difficulties, the two of them, I thought, well, I really am desperate to keep this group together, I'm going to see what I can do. And I just rang ECM. And I just said, I think Manfred is interested in this group. I'm not sure, but we want to make another recording, which wasn't exactly true.

And I said, if he's interested, could he call me back? And then I thought, well, now I've done everything I can do. I can't do any more. And two minutes later the phone went, and it was Manfred saying he wanted to record it. And as soon as I told the two of them that, then they realized this was an opportunity which they could not possibly miss. And there's no problems now between them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la, la La, la, la, la, la, la...

HANSEN: Vocalist Norma Winstone. Her album "Distances" is on the ECM label, and she joined us from the studios of the BBC Radio Kent in Tunbridge Wells, England. Thank you so much.

Ms. WINSTONE: Thank you, Liane. It's been a great pleasure.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. WINSTONE: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la, la La, la, la, la, la, la...

HANSEN: Hear songs from Norma Winstone's new CD and discover a lot more jazz at the music section of our Web site

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