Well-known in Europe and his native England, Jamie Cullum hasn’t gotten his props here in the US yet, but he will. Cullum over-packed two shows at the venerable Blue Note club—both the house seats and the stage, where he somehow jammed in an actual big band, probably 20 more musicians than comfortably fit the venue. Everyone was drenched in sweat by the end of the evening, but we would have been anyway, after this dynamo’s high-energy performance.
Harry Connick, Jr. is Cullum’s closest mainstream equivalent in the US: great vocals, superb piano playing, a winning persona, and they both write. Cullum’s energy can light up a big room rather than the big screen, however. I first caught him at the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer, headlining the Auditorium Stravinski, capacity 3,500, where the audience happily responded to his solo performance like trained seals: If Cullum said, “Jump!” we all jumped. At the Blue Note, capacity 200, where Cullum had a big band backing him up, there was no room to breathe, even on stage, but when he said, “Jump!” we all jumped—or tried to.
Alternately sitting at the piano, standing to croon or expertly leading the band, Cullum commands attention. Like all great performers, he seems as at home onstage as he’d be in his own living room, and if his patter is rehearsed, it’s hard to tell. A generous performer, he frequently introduces and thanks his band members, as well as those who contributed to his album.
All photos by Dino Perrucci
Cullum’s set list is diverse, ranging from his own compositions to standards to rock songs, both well- and lesser-known. One wouldn’t necessarily expect Eric Burdon and The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” to show up big-band style, but it did, and it worked. I vividly remember, from Montreux, his quiet, solo version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which was also a poignant show-stopper at the Blue Note, as was his cover of Radiohead’s “High and Dry.”
Apparently one of his favorite songwriters, Randy Newman’s “Losing You” (which appears on Cullum’s new album, Interlude) fit neatly alongside standards like “Make Someone Happy” and Cullum’s own “When I Get Famous,” a jab at all the bullies who picked on him in school.
The guy has a great sense of fun, and communicates it to his audiences, whatever the size. Not only did he send us home after a great evening of music, he made us happy, and that’s not so easy these days. We could use a little more Jamie Cullum on this side of the pond.
– Suzanne Cadgène