Cullum Has New 'Tales' To Tell

You cannot fence in Jamie Cullum. The spunky 26-year-old pianist's appeal ranges from teenagers to the fiftysomething crowd. And he not only entertains with a plucky panache but also displays heartfel

You cannot fence in Jamie Cullum.

He is a spunky 26-year-old pianist who infuses the pop tunes he sings with jazz. He pens his own lyrical -- and at times witty -- songs as well as demonstrates his prowess as a song stylist.

His appeal ranges from teenagers to the fiftysomething crowd. And he not only entertains with a plucky panache but also displays heartfelt emotion in his live performances.

As for where Cullum believes he fits in, he shrugs. "I know lots of music, and I like making music for music fans, not for the jazz snobs or the fashion-conscious teenager. I like having the opportunity to cross boundaries," he says.

The U.K.-born and -based Cullum is an unlikely pop upstart who sells incredibly well. Debut disc "Twentysomething" has moved more than 2 million copies worldwide, and is the top-selling jazz disc ever in the United Kingdom, with 1.2 million units sold, according to his label.

His second set, "Catching Tales," released Oct. 11 in North America on Verve Forecast, is pegged to soar even higher. The album came out Sept. 26 on Universal in the United Kingdom and Europe, and debuted at No. 4, according to the Official U.K. Charts Co.

Yet, in talking about his last two whirlwind years, Cullum is not the least bit nonplussed by all the attention, nor is he worried about a sophomore slump. "I'm just having fun," he says, in a telephone interview from the United Kingdom. "I like to perform. I enjoy it so much."

Cullum's boyish demeanor is spiked with enthusiasm—he punctuates the conversation with frequent exclamations of "Absolutely!" He is excited about "Catching Tales," recorded live in the studio, with only a few nips and tucks in the mix.

"This time we recorded in a more ragtag fashion," he says. "We came up with a more rugged, less perfect sound. We even kept the laughs in the mix. I wanted to sound younger and be happy with my own imperfection. If anything, I sound old and experienced on 'Twentysomething.' "

For that first album, Cullum was marketed as a jazz-pop crossover artist. The CD bowed in England in October 2003; for its May 2004 U.S. release, Verve resequenced the disc, fronting the playlist with tunes that accentuated his singer/songwriter talent. For every pop tune like the self-composed breakout single "All at Sea" there was a jazz standard like Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick out of You," given a new twist with Cullum stomping on the piano keys with his feet.

On "Catching Tales," the jazz quotient is more subtle. Cullum cites "Get Your Way," the album's first single, as an example of how the project intertwines jazz and pop. It is a catchy midtempo tune—based on a sample of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra's version of Allen Toussaint's "Hey Woman, Get out of My Life"—with big-band horns, a soulful swing and a hip-hop feel that Cullum conceived with DJ/producer Dan the Automator.

"This is a middle finger up to those new big-band records," Cullum says. "Here I've got the big band with all its horns, and I'm jamming with the 1968 original. It's a modern way to sound classic."

The United States will get Cullum in person the week of release for TV visits and two concerts, but most of his live appearances will concentrate on the United Kingdom and Europe until Christmas. A 15-date U.K tour, including two nights at London's 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall, kicks off at the end of October. A U.S. headline is planned for early 2006.

Excerpted from the Oct. 15, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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