Thursday, 1 May 2014

Jamie Opens Cheltenham Jazz Festival in Style

Weds 30th April - The Big Top

Jamie Cullum opened up the proceedings for Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014 with an explosive double-bill performance in the large circus-style Big Top Arena, located in Montpellier Gardens.

With a full day of sunshine in preparation and the on-site bar and restaurant open before the show, the audience were in good spirits as they took their seats. One gentleman told me before the show that the last time he had seen Jamie perform was in an audience of around twenty people back when the young jazz singer/pianist was just 19. It would seem that a lot has changed in the fifteen years since his days of producing jazzy piano/vocal renditions of popular songs and jazz standards.

For starters, where he was once a solo performer with perhaps with a drummer and bassist in tow, now he came with an army of friends; a string quartet, double bassist, guitarist, pianist, drummer and a Musical Director to help conduct the full-sized big band brass section.

The show began with a bang, with a brass heavy version of his hit single “Get Your Way”, with the backing band allowing Jamie to free himself from the piano and lead from the front of the stage. This showed a massive departure from his rough around the edges vocal style of his earlier material and a development into an outstanding vocalist, who just happens to be a world-class jazz pianist too!

Jamie’s performance was engaging, energetic and enthusiastic, throwing his smartly dressed self across the stage whilst enjoying the extended brass solos. Some old habits like tapping on the piano lid have been replaced by full-on piano acrobatics, which needed two men to fix the piano afterwards, and running into the crowd with a megaphone, which was a particular highlight for many the near-capacity audience.

Jamie’s new material with the big band demonstrated a significant development in his songwriting style which seems to have evolved from album to album. As a big supporter of upcoming jazz artists, Jamie hosts a popular Radio 2 show every Tuesday night at 7pm, which has introduced him to many of his recent collaborators, including Ben Lamdin from Nostalgia77, with whom he has recorded his upcoming album, due to be released later this year, which Jamie describes as “the first actual jazz album I’ve ever made”.

The arrangements were varied and dynamic whilst the performance was exhilarating in places and quite moving in others, particularly his covers of Sufjan Stevens’ “The Seer’s Tower”, which opened with the haunting string quartet introduction, his favourite Randy Newman track “Losing You” and his smooth and sultry version of Pure Imagination, from his last album Momentum.

The pièce de résistance of the performance was the encore, during which Jamie asked the audience who had already all stood up to applaud the show to stay risen, clap their hands and jump up and down to the music. Anybody with a lesser presence would have surely been met with raised eyebrows, particularly from the more senior or reserved audience members, but on his command the entire audience seemed to move as one, creating a sea of heads from the back of the tiered seating all the way to the front row of the stalls, creating an atmosphere that you might expect during a Glastonbury headliner, but not during a jazz gig in April. Once again Jamie has shown that there are no boundaries between pop, rock and jazz that cannot be crossed.

The last thing I heard leaving the arena from a smartly dressed lady in a red dress was “I am in pure bliss”. Let’s hope that Sophie Dahl doesn't hear about this else Jamie’s earlier warning to the audience member who shouted out “I love you Jamie” that his wife would “kick her arse” may come to fruition.

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