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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December, 2003, 03:02 GMT
Jamie Cullum jazzes up music scene
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online

Jamie Cullum
Cullum will take his energetic jazz on world tour in 2004
After years spent honing his skills, 24-year-old Jamie Cullum is ending 2003 as the UK's biggest selling jazz artist of all time.

The pianist and singer signed a 1m record deal in April to release Twentysomething - his major label debut becoming the fastest-selling jazz album in chart history.

He wowed the Royal Festival Hall and New York's prestigious Algonquin Hotel, won the BBC Jazz Awards' Rising Star title and spiced up the Royal Variety Performance.

"It has seemed like a total whirlwind from beginning to end," he told BBC News Online.

His sheer talent, pop star appeal and taste for mixing standards with new songs and rock covers has taken jazz out of the clubs and onto the high street.


It also earned Cullum the nickname "Sinatra in Sneakers" and made him a celebrity, something he says he never intended.

"The thing that I really desperately want in the whole world is to be an amazing musician, and that's going to take my whole life," he says.

"The media side of it is a necessary part, and I quite enjoy it because I never thought I would do any of it.

Claire Martin and Jamie Cullum
Cullum won a BBC Jazz Award alongside singer Claire Martin
"But at the centre of it all is me behind a piano. That has kept me grounded because I'm not doing surreal things like going on TV and miming - I actually get to play and prove what I can do."

So the highlight of Cullum's astounding year was not having his face put on posters all over London ("I laugh every time I see my ridiculous picture") but his hugely successful tour.

"We played every night to 900 people, most of whom were under 30 and would never have thought of going to a jazz concert before. That was amazing," he says.

Recording his latest album was another high point, Cullum feeling at the height of his creative powers and "really pleased" with the result.


Having taught himself piano and guitar from the age of eight, Cullum earned his stripes with jazz, rock and hip hop acts near his childhood home in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

He describes his current songwriting partnership with older brother Ben as "the easiest working relationship in the world".

After spending Christmas with his family in Bath, Cullum will kick off the New Year by releasing his interpretation of the Jimi Hendrix song Wind Cries Mary as a single. He is a little wary of the reception it might get.

The only reason I would take a break would be to write more songs
Jamie Cullum
"People might presume it is as manufactured as something from a TV talent show," he says, "but Jimi Hendrix has been my idol since I was 12."

Cullum has also covered Jeff Buckley, seen as "sacred ground" by the late star's legion of fans.

"His mum asked me to sing Wind Cries Mary at a tribute concert to her son because she loves my version.

"So if it's OK with Jeff Buckley's mum then it has to be all right."

In February he embarks on a new UK tour, followed by shows in America, Japan, Europe and Australia. Time off is not on his mind.

"The only reason I would take a break would be to write more songs and work on new music," Cullum says.

"I'm always writing stuff, and I travel with my own little music set-up. You have to keep creative otherwise you go crazy."

Cullum beats British jazz record
01 Dec 03 |  Entertainment
Jazz star honours hotel gig
13 Nov 03 |  South West Wales
Cullum gives it all that jazz
31 Oct 03 |  Entertainment
Jazz winners span generations
30 Jul 03 |  Entertainment
Jazz star heads for pop charts
29 Apr 03 |  Entertainment


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