The jazz vocals scene has changed immeasurably since 2003, the big year that Jamie Cullum broke through with the million selling Twentysomething inspiring a tsunami of interest in the niche, and seeing singers such as Clare Teal, who actually ‘discovered’ Cullum in the first place, sign to a major label. A decade on Cullum, about to release his latest album in May, is still apparently tapping the scene for the Great American Songbook on Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ rumoured to be on the new album. But Cullum has moved on himself, and who would have thought a decade ago that he would have been covering Rihanna and The White Stripes? Answer no one. Purists would have been incredulous or would have intoned darkly “told you so”. Clare Teal on the other hand moved away from jazz quite a bit into the showbiz mainstream for a while as she switched labels, moving from one major to another, and developing her broadcasting career, but certainly on a recent hearing has moved back to her initial Ella Fitzgerald-influenced starting point. Working with the likes of talented retro-radical Jay Phelps has certainly paid dividends or maybe reminded her that jazz is her real strength and on her day no one has a finer classic female jazz singer’s voice rooted in swing in the UK than Teal. In terms of male crooning the scene has changed, and while no one could claim that Jamie Cullum sounds like Harry Connick any more (that’s how he started out) there are others who do. Anthony Strong, say, is beginning to make a name for himself in France and Germany, and interesting Mancunian Alexander Stewart has managed to inject his own personality, love of The Smiths, and more besides, into his idea of crooning.
Another singer who we’ll be hearing more about in the spring is Theo Jackson. The newly London-based singer has a distinctive style and unlike orthodox crooners is very hard to place. He’s not of the Rat Pack, and he’s not a Bublé-ite, which Stewart to a certain extent is, but places himself more inside the band not just because he plays the piano but inserts his vocals in settings that relate to the saxophone lines of Nathaniel Facey, the Empirical co-founder who recently won instrumentalist of the year at the Jazz FM awards. Jackson writes his own songs, and last year released a promising debut album called Jericho that nonetheless failed to achieve a huge impact. Now with imaginative management, above all talent, and a determination to break through Jackson is embarking on his first big tour. The 27-year-old Durham university music graduate is hardly wet behind the ears, and his tall confident demeanour makes the right statement in a jazz club. He’s not toe-curlingly schmaltzy, like some wannabe jazz singers tend to be, and you feel that he doesn’t take himself too seriously even if that’s the way he prefers his music. Live it all starts on 5 May at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as a duo with Nathaniel Facey playing original tunes and Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy material, and continues usually as a vocals-piano trio with Jackson joined by bassist Shane Allessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Dates are 606, London (8 May); Soundcellar, Poole (9 May); Stables, Wavendon (14 May); Chapel Arts, Bath (18 May); Pizza Express, Maidstone (24 May); Jam Factory, Oxford (26 May); Dean Clough, Halifax (30 May); Matt and Phred’s, Manchester (31 May); and Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate (6, 8 June). SG
Too cool just to croon: Theo Jackson, above