British phenom Jamie Cullum's 2003 breakthrough Twentysomething offered up a fresh take on jazz -- sort of a Michael Bublé/Robbie Williams cocktail -- but with his latest, Catching Tales, he's added hip-hop to the mix, thanks to a few tricks he learned from Pharrell Williams (catch their duet "You Can Do It Too" on Williams' upcoming solo release) and Dan the Automator (Gorillaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School), who produced Tales' first single, the jazz-hop "Get Your Way." While nursing a cold at home in England, feeling sorry for himself on his brother's birthday, he took some time to talk to New Times and wax philosophical about making music.
New Times: You're a jazz singer, but you've said before that you set out to make pop albums that can be enjoyed en masse. Can you explain that philosophy a bit more?
Jamie Cullum: I love to make challenging and interesting music that works within jazz and uses jazz as a platform and a basis to improvise and make adventurous and interesting music. But I also like to give it the edge and hookiness and immediacy of almost like a pop record, because I don't think that's done that often, and I don't think it's done successfully very often. I'm just trying to find this common ground between disparate styles, and it's a lot harder than you might think -- at least without sounding like elevator music.
Marquee Theatre in Tempe
Scheduled to perform on Saturday, May 27
NT: You've said that your work is somewhere between Elton John and Herbie Hancock. What specifically about Herbie's work resonates with you?
JC: Herbie's one of the great musicians of all time, just in terms of technique alone. One of the amazing things about Herbie, though, like his mentor Miles Davis: He was just fearlessly mixing and experimenting with styles, through jazz, to funk, to rock, to disco, to dance, to electronica, to pop. He's fearless, and he always does it with grace and amazing musicianship. I try to bring some of that fearlessness -- as every musician should do -- to what I do, too.
NT: Herbie is an innovator with a real passion for integrating popular trends into old modes of jazz. Is that something you can relate to, that desire to help jazz evolve in some way?
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JC: I care deeply about jazz and I know a great deal about it, but I also grew up loving and listening to pop music and rock music and electronic jazz music and acid jazz music, and really, my expertise lies more in this blending of styles, because I have a lot of respect for pop music. Often when a jazz musician will experiment with pop, it's through kind of kitsch or camp or some kind of pseudo-intellectual mood. With me, it's because I actually really love Madonna.
NT: Dan the Automator helped Stewart Levine produce the new album's first single, "Get Your Way." Is that an example of what we're talking about?
JC: I don't like to go into it too much because it makes it all sound very pompous and thought through. The thing with "Get Your Way" is that it's a blend of a lot of styles I like. I love hip-hop. There's not a rap in that song, but there's a hip-hop beat and it's produced by a hip-hop producer -- a great one, Dan the Automator. It's got like a pop hook chorus and has a jazz piano song in the middle. The lyrics are quite intelligent and suave like Cole Porter, but actually the song's about getting laid. It's all these paradoxes, pushes and pulls, and things I like. It might not be the most revolutionary thing in the world, but it does up a lot of music I like in one song.
Jamie Cullum, and B>