Gig/Concert: Jamie Cullum
Venue: Massey Hall, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 9 March 2010
Headliners: Jamie Cullum
In one word: Charming
Massey Hall is a venue with an illustrious music history having hosted many legendary performances, one of the most famous of all being the 1953 concert with jazz influentials Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and the rest of The Quintet. That gig was forever immortalized with the live album Jazz at Massey Hall, and tonight Britain’s 21st Century jazz superstar Jamie Cullum made no secret of how special it was to him to be playing at the setting where Charlie Parker had once had his finest hour.
Jamie Cullum is an exuberant performer, a real maestro, but to begin with things were a little bit stiff inside Massey. A warm crowd greeted Jamie from the offset, and he easily charmed and chuckled the audience, but in comparison to some live recordings I’ve seen (especially with Jools Holland) it was a slow and perhaps nervy start – though nobody would blame the man for being nervous given the occasion. The setting may have been intimidating too; Massey Hall is very much a formal venue, prim and proper, with smartly dressed ushers patrolling the aisles to both guide people to their seats and also fuss them into behaving, by politely policing those caught taking photographs and also intervening for those who clap or cheer too rowdily. Honestly, the formality of this kind of setting is a major buzz kill to me and the opposite to the gigs I most often find myself at, but tonight I didn’t feel a bit uncomfortable and I knew it was only a matter of time before Jamie Cullum would fully break down the stuffiness in the air.
A cover of Rihanna’s hit “Please Don’t Stop The Music” encouraged the singer to loosen up a bit and start being more of his playful self, though soon after came Harry Seacombe/Tony Bennett’s “If I Ruled The World”, a great cover, though a bit heavier, being self-described as “sounding like a funeral”. In any case Jamie was now having fun and soon got fully into his playful stride, demonstrated with many moments of humour throughout the night, including a bit of bebop that diverted to sounding like an Adam Sandler skit in some moments.
“It Ain’t Necessarily So” was one of the most entertaining moments of the evening, with Jamie using every part of his piano except the keys as he tapped and slapped his way around the instrument with a solo departure that sounded like tribal music, and this was also one of the first songs where he made full creative use of the microphone, varying his distance in the airspace around the mic to effect rises and falls in the volume. A slick piano intro then led into “Photograph” which was another great moment, and one in which Jamie’s four-piece backing band were most prominent. By this song Jamie Cullum had fully loosened up, striding to the edge of the stage with his mic as he sung about a teenage experience of getting drunk with a girl, getting laughs for the key parts of the song, particularly when poking fun at his short stature with the lines: “It was the same night that I kissed that girl, The tall one with the auburn hair, I remember laughing coz to kiss me, She had to sit down on a chair!”
Towards the end of the night came “Wheels”, a song with a driving beat and which was announced as being inspired by a six-year old boy who had shown Jamie a diddy on piano. It seems likely this may be the next single to be released from The Pursuit, as it was mentioned during the intro that a video for the song is going to be shot next week. This song was shortly followed by “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, a song performed as duet between Jamie and his double bassist Chris Hill, with Hill getting his moment in the spotlight with a two minute solo.
As the evening drew to a conclusion, Jamie Cullum and his band broke smashed through any remaining stuffiness inside Massey as they left the stage to play in the centre aisle, performing a take on Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”, with the seated crowd circling them and many up on their feet to get closer. Soon after the band departed before returning for the encore which featured “The Wind Cries Mary” – Jimi Hendrix is an artist whose work should really be considered untouchable, but we can let this one slide.
I’ll openly confess that my liking for jazz music is still pretty minimal but has grown from a previous complete disdain, and it was a genuine privilege tonight to be in attendance at Massey Hall for a memorable performance. I’m not the least interested or enthused by some of his Broadway and ballroom style material, but I have a heap of respect for the creativity and outstanding musicianship, particularly on piano, of Jamie Cullum, and at his liveliest and most spontaneous he expresses himself through music at a level that few contemporaries can rival. At 30 years old he has already established himself in the UK as the best-selling jazz artist of all time, and really you can only wonder how his music may evolve as he gets older.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
Jamie Cullum will be sticking around in Toronto for a couple of days and you can catch him at Canadian Music Week tomorrow, Thursday 12 March, where he is keynote headliner, and will also be doing a performance following his interview.