Apr 162021

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum is a jazz artist with fluency in the crossover to pop. He has won and been nominated for jazz-specific and more general awards alike, collecting a Rising Star British Jazz Award and most recently a Radio Academy Award for his BBC Radio show. He also scored a nomination for a Best Original Song Golden Globe, for “Gran Torino.” Admittedly, 2005 was a bit of an awkward year when he won both the BBC Jazz Award for Artist of the Year and the Worst British Male award from the parody Naomi Awards. Showing perseverance, Cullum won the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Award for Best British Male two years later.

Many of Cullum’s covers come from two “Song Society” albums, where he challenges himself to create a new take on a song in an hour, allowing for a lot of creative improvisation to shape the end product. The songs chosen include new hits on the pop charts as well as some throwbacks and standards. Other covers are sprinkled throughout his original albums as well. Here we take a sonic journey through a handful of his covers that both show his range as an artist and span original genres and decades. This doesn’t even cover (ha) his whole jazz cover album Interlude, so if you are a jazz cat, check it out.

P.S. Fun fact: Cullum is married to Roald Dahl’s granddaughter. If you are a Matilda, BFG, Willy Wonka, or Witches fan, there is even more of a reason to read on.

Jamie Cullum – Brick (Ben Folds Five cover)

Although we will hear that Jamie Cullum certainly knows how to transform songs from many genres with his jazzy style, it’s also nice to know that he can also remain faithful to a song while covering it. The somber “Brick” was a deviation from Ben Folds Five’s typical style, but it came from the heart. This cover does too. The piano is played straight, with no embellishments. The short cello sounds that could almost be staccato tuba in the original don’t pack the same punch here, although the stand-up bass hints at them. The vocals come with the emotion requisite of the lyrics, and that feeling transfers to the listener.

Jamie Cullum – Everlasting Love (Robert Knight cover)

Maybe you didn’t know Love Affair, Carl Carlton, or Gloria Estefan were covering this earnest classic. Add Jamie Cullum to the list of those with a successful cover. This version’s initial energy is a little muted, more smooth than upbeat, but the choruses escalate to the energy of the original. There’s no big brass to transition between verses and choruses, but the piano style changes accordingly, more chipper, along with Cullum’s more cheery vocals.

Jamie Cullum – Hey Ma (Bon Iver cover)

I had never really “gotten” Bon Iver until this single from his latest full album stuck with me. Without the extra background sounds, the simple piano accompaniment focuses on the main message: call your ma. This version somehow seems even sadder than the original, with only a whisper of non-piano accompaniment that comes in occasionally. With the focus on him, Cullum gets to show off his range, reaching the falsetto without a problem. I can’t help but wonder if there is some subtle reference to his album Taller behind his choice to cover this song in the first place.

Jamie Cullum – Singin’ In the Rain (Doris Eaton Travis cover)

This song predates the musical by twentysomething years, and in Cullum’s hands it gets another day in the sun. He changes the rhythm of the lyrics such that Gene Kelly’s tap steps might have to adapt, and his jaunty walk might end up looking more like a casual saunter. Gene Kelly’s song starts with some “doo doo”s, so it is only right that Cullum adds some scatting and “la la”s of his own in the middle and closes out the song with his own “da da doo”s.

Jamie Cullum – Ex Factor/Nice for What (Lauryn Hill / Drake cover)

Cullum doubles down on Drake’s homage to Lauryn Hill in “Nice for What” by mixing in even more of “Ex Factor.” With the jazzy vibe, the studio is just another spoken word night at your local coffee shop. The beat blending between the background singers and Cullum in this take is impressive; given the different rhythms they still keep the flow. The choice to bring back Hill to close the song makes her the star of this version and gives her the last word (sorry, Drake).

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