It was a make-or-break gig. Jamie Cullum was building some buzz in British jazz circles courtesy of his self-produced 1999 debut album Heard It All Before.
A copy eventually made its way to the veteran British talk-show host Michael Parkinson. After attending a live show he invited Cullum, 23 at the time, on to the hit TV show.
That April 2003 guest slot, featuring a frenzied Cullum working the piano in addition to an attached drum machine, caused international headlines among the music press.
A bidding war ensued and the record label Universal snapped him up with a deal reportedly worth more than £1 million (Dh6m); meanwhile, the press hailed Cullum as the British answer to the Canadian sensation Michael Bublé.
Cullum recalls that television debut with self-deprecation.
“I was wearing a cheap suit and my hair now is as bad as it was then,” he says. “That was a big moment for me. I did a thousand gigs before then and I was confident musically and in terms of my performance. The difference is today, you get put on television without that preparedness.”
Cullum returns to the UAE on the back of his latest release Momentum.
Released in May, the sixth album heralds a major shift with it predominantly comprising self-composed material.
Even the two covers have been reinvented: Cole Porter’s Love for Sale is given a downbeat groove and a guest appearance by the grime rapper Roots Manuva, while Pure Imagination (from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) is rendered more ruminative and epic.
Cullum acknowledges the lack of covers in Momentum is akin to a removal of a crutch.
“When the album came out, in the first few moments I didn’t know whether it was connecting with the audience,” he says.
“Eventually it did and it surpassed my expectations. Honestly, now I feel like I can do anything. If I released a musically safer record, I don’t think I would have had 10 years in front of me.”
The deep-seated contentment can be felt in the live performances.
Jazz festivalgoers should certainly get their money’s worth as Cullum’s gigs normally run overtime due to the sheer fun had on stage.
“We don’t normally have any real set-lists but we know which song to start and end with,” Cullum says. “In between, we just see where it goes and the band essentially just follow me. It keeps it loose, live and fun for us on stage and for the audience. You need those rough edges and those moments that can only happen on that particular night.”
• Jamie Cullum performs on February 19 at the Dubai Jazz Festival at Dubai Festival City Park. Showtime is 10.30pm. Tickets start at Dh350 from www.ticketmaster.ae
Larry Carlton to weave his guitar magic
Larry Carlton may have made a career from being in the background, but he will be front of stage as part of the Dubai Jazz Festival.
The American guitarist is one of the main headliners in the festival’s Jazz Garden: The Legends Edition; a special series of concerts catering exclusively to jazz-heads.
Carlton may have released more than 30 albums, but remains best known for his touch on other artists’ masterpieces.
His evocative one-minute solo in Steely Dan’s 1976 track Kid Charlemagne continues to be heralded as one of the best displays of musical virtuosity in modern pop.
Such is the acclaim of the performance that it become the subject of dozens of YouTube guitar lessons.
Good luck learning that, as Carlton never plans his guitar attacks.
“None of my solos have ever been thought out and I don’t prepare,” he says. “When it comes to the Kid Charlemagne solo, it was just me playing that night and we have this joke in the studio where we say in that case the note fairy was very generous.” Inspiration continued to strike Carlton, who laid down another signature solo in Michael Jackson’s 1980 ballad She’s Out of My Life.
It is this blend of pop and jazz appeal that keeps Carlton’s five-decade career chugging. Jazz may not be as popular as it once was, but his extensive catalogue of recordings continues to reach new ears.
“In that way the internet has been helpful,” he says. “Twenty or 30 years ago, radio decided what got played and bought. With the internet, those barriers are gone because you hear one artist and it leads you to another.”
• Larry Carlton plays on Friday from 9.30pm to 11pm. The Jazz Garden: The Legends Edition runs tomorrow and Friday before returning on February 19 and 20. Tickets are Dh225 for each night. Performances take place at the same time as those on the main stage. For details, visit www.dubaijazzfest.com
Drums of the World are ready for their biggest gig yet
It took a few weeks for Julie-Ann Odell to recover from the phone call.
The Drums of the World founder was shocked when she was invited by the Dubai Jazz Festival to be the supporting act for the guitar legend Carlos Santana.
“For a couple of weeks I just couldn’t believe it and I just had to pinch myself,” Odell recalls. “It took a while for the realisation to sink in and to understand how big we have to play.”
With the reality setting in, the 25-piece group have been busily rehearsing in a Dubai space in Al Quoz.
Despite the grand occasion, Odell says the group will remain true to its aesthetics.
“Jazz is in the moment and improvisational,” she says. “And that’s what we do but with rhythm.” Odell founded Drums of the World as an offshoot of her company Dubai Drums, a business using drumming techniques to build bonds both in the workplace and at home.
Where Dubai Drums attempted to make a sweet racket from unexperienced suits, Drums of the World is what you get from an eclectic mix of accomplished thumpers.
“We have people from 15 different countries in the group,” she said. “We want to try to showcase all of these different cultures and traditions together in our performance.” Odell hopes next Thursday’s performance will be the first of many high-profile affairs across the UAE. But that said, she is happy to play it by ear.
“There is always a reason for everything,” she says.
“And if that reason asks all of us to play big, then it’s good enough for us.”
• Drums of the World play at the main stage on February 20 from 9.30pm to 10.30 at the Dubai Jazz Festival, Dubai Festival City Park. Tickets start at Dh350 from www.ticketmaster.ae
An eclectic range of leading artists join Jamie Cullum on the festival main stage
Al McKay All Stars
Performing with his cracking 14-piece band, the Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist McKay has been a live favourite on the global jazz festival circuit. The set-list is back-to-back hits by the legendary disco group including Boogie Wonderland and Shining Star.
• Showtime 10.30pm
Olly Murs and The Wanted
The runner-up of the 2009 British version of The X Factor, Olly Murs, pictured, will arrive to serenade fans on Valentine’s Day. He will be supported by his compatriots, the boy-band The Wanted, who recently announced their Dubai show as one of only a handful left before going on hiatus.
• Showtimes The Wanted at 9pm and Olly Murs at 10.30pm
The American singer-songwriterhas summery pop tunes to lodgein your mind long after the show.
• Showtime 9pm
What was initially a heartbreaking clash between Santana and The Rolling Stones has become a killer weekend of classic rock. The guitarist’s show has been moved a day ahead of its original Friday slot (the same day that The Rolling Stones perform at du Arena) so fans should arrive in droves to see Santana’s legendary musicianship.
• Showtime 10.30pm
Highlights to hear at the Jazz Garden
The New Yorker was the drummer of the Miles Davis group from 1972 to 1985. Praising Foster in his memoirs, the late jazz legend stated that Foster “knocked me out because he had such a groove and he would just lay it right in there”.
Thursday, 9.30pm to 11pm
The saxophonist flies the jazz flag for his native Hungary. Lakatos has been featured in more than 300 albums as a session musician and band leader.
Thursday, 8pm to 9.15pm
The Miles Davis connection continues in that the saxophonist Grossman was Wayne Shorter’s replacement in Davis’s jazz-fusion band.
February 19, 8pm to 9.15pm
The Puerto Rican flautist comes to Dubai with extensive live experience, including performing with the Dave Matthews Band and as a special guest of the Dalai Lama.
February 20, 8pm to 9.15pm