Cullum's career path could have been very different as at the age of twenty one, Jamie was making music in five different guises, eager for any of them to take off. The post Brit Pop band TAXI came closest, with a record deal on the table from RCA. The psychedelia of Red Shift showed hints of his future stage antics as it featured Jamie as the precariously balanced keyboard player standing atop his Fender Rhodes and his heavy metal band High Voltage revealed his breadth of musical interest. The offer to run the housebound of a pre-X-factor reality show in Germany was the most financially lucrative choice at the time but it was the skill Jamie had honed to pay his way though college that he chose to further exploit and which helped him become the musician we know today. As a jazz pianist on the British function circuit (parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs etc.) Jamie had played over a thousand shows before he graduated. It was the cash from these gigs that paid for his college education, and that also taught him the chops and the skills to engage a (mostly) apathetic audience who didn’t much care who was playing piano in the corner. With money in his pocket from the gigs, and a burgeoning reputation as a great pianist, not just a wedding singer, Jamie recorded an album. Now available on eBay for upwards of $800 a copy, the 500 CD's Jamie pressed of Heard It All Before to sell at gigs gave him a taste of the monies to be earned from recorded music. He reinvested this profit into a new recording, Pointless Nostalgic, this time recorded with seasoned jazz players. As he was applying the finishing touches to the record, eminent jazz producer Alan Bates, approached Jamie to release the record on his Candid Records (home to classics by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln and more recently, Stacey Kent). The year was 2002 and with Alan’s backing Jamie embarked on his first ‘proper' gigs, in clubs and festivals, both jazz and rock. The jazz fans loved the new life he breathed into their world and the rock fans had never seen anything quite like him, but they loved it. A year of solid gigging bore fruit when renowned UK broadcaster Michael Parkinson asked Jamie to perform on his primetime TV chat show.
Thus ensued an old fashioned major label bidding war, with Jamie finally being wooed to Universal by the promise of working with thirty three time Grammy nominated Tommy LiPuma and Verve Records in the US.
2003 was a blur. The first album under the Universal deal was recorded with producer Stewart Levine at the helm. Sessions were squeezed in between a summer of jazz and rock and pop festivals, a three week residency at the legendary Oak Room in The Algonguin Hotel, the BBC Jazz Awards, at which Jamie won The Rising Star Award, a private performance for Her Majesty The Queen to celebrate her 50 years on the throne and the filming of ITV’s flagship arts broadcast the South Bank Show, an honour normally bestowed on artists after they have reached legendary status.
Twentysomething, with All At Sea as lead single, was released across Europe. Jamie toured the UK again with a young Amy Winehouse as the opening act. Twenty two national TV shows later and the album had sold a million copies by Christmas.
The pace of 2004 was no slower. The first of four US tours that year kicked off in January, the bitter cold only punctuated by a Vanity Fair photoshoot with Bruce Weber in the ocean near his Miami beachfront home, a performance with Stevie Wonder at NAMM and a takeover of SxSW which included a showstopping performance with N*E*R*D, all before the LP was released in the US in March.
The Twentysomething album went on to sell three million copies, and achieved eleven platinum, eleven gold and two silver sales awards.
Multiple nominations and a performance at The Brit Awards took him back to the UK, as did the West End debut of When Harry Met Sally, completely re-scored by Jamie and brother, Ben. Jamie’s headline set at Glastonbury Festival was broadcast live on BBC TV, a breakthrough moment as the wider television audience finally got to see Jamie the pro entertainer in full flight. A punishing promotional schedule pulled him to all four corners of the Earth, even to a remote studio in New Zealand where he recorded the lead single from the movie Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Such a smash record demanded a speedy follow up, and with Stewart Levine twiddling the knobs again, Catching Tales was recorded and released. Via Pharrell Williams Jamie had got to know celebrated hip hop DJ and Gorillaz member Dan Nakamura (aka Dan The Automator) who also contributed tracks. This time promotion for the record was built around doing what Jamie likes best, performing on stage - an eighteen month tour that took in forty countries. Highlights included his first shows at Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, a MusiCares tribute to Brian Wilson, the TED convention, and the day when Jamie met EDM DJ aristocracy Pete Tong at Buckingham Palace. Pete professed to be a huge fan and invited Jamie to perform live at sunset on the beach in Ibiza to celebrate 10 years of BBC Radio 1’s coverage from the dance world’s favourite island. A great example of Jamie’s natural ability to smudge musical boundaries and mess with peoples perceptions. Jamie took that challenge even further by partnering with Underworld member and DJ Darren Emerson to front an improvised piano house spectacular at Sónar, Barcelona’s hugely influential electronic and advanced music festival. Catching Tales went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award.
Amongst the crazy touring schedule Jamie managed to record his first tracks for Disney, a collaboration with Rufus Wainwright and Danny Elfman that saw Jamie sing the voice of Frankie the Frog in the movie Meet The Robinsons. More poignantly Jamie also recorded the soundtrack to the heartbreaking John Cusack movie Grace Is Gone. The song, written by Clint Eastwood and Carole Bayer Sagar was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the award for best song at the Satellite Awards. More importantly, the alliance put Jamie and Clint together and was the start of a great friendship. Later that year Clint asked Jamie to contribute to the score and write the theme tune for his acting swan song Gran Torino. A huge success, the song received another Grammy nomination and brought a new audience to Jamie’s work, and it remains an emotional mainstay of his captivating live sets.
After his first break in over six years, Jamie headed to LA to record his next project. Settling into a house in Laurel Canyon with his wife to be Sophie Dahl, Jamie eschewed his previous preferred ‘one take’ recording process for a more considered approach. Jamie’s creative partner in crime this time was multiple Grammy nominated Greg Wells. The former jazz student and big band drummer had produced tracks for OneRepublic, Adele, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Kid Cudi on his way to selling over a hundred million albums. Jamie and he beavoured away at a host of LA studios, including the famous Sunset Sound Studios to produce Jamie’s most refined album to date, The Pursuit. Music Week said of the record: "The Cole Porter cover at the start won't surprise you, but the house track at the end just might. Cullum's fifth album does justice to his musical influences: from the Portishead-tinged 'If I Ruled The World' to the wonky groove of 'We Run Things', it's bold, experimental and the best thing Cullum's done”. The artwork for the album and the much admired video for his cover of Rihanna's Don’t Stop The Music feature a supercool James Bond style scenario of exploding pianos.
Around this time, in addition to the usual promotional and live work which earned him the Best Concert gong at the German LEA awards, Jamie was asked to open the Cannes Film Festival with a performance of his mashup of New York New York and Empire State of Mind to honour Robert De Niro. Cullum's love of metal was rekindled when Harry Shearer asked him to join Spinal Tap on the main stage of Glastonbury before 80,000 fans and Jamie marked the 70th anniversary of Britain's longest running radio show by appearing on the first ever live edition of Desert Island Discs. Jamie teamed up with Dutch EDM DJ Sander Kleinenberg to record house tunes together and also played live with Hugh Laurie and with Lang Lang. Sky TV asked Jamie to be a judge on their top rated talent show ‘Must Be The Music’ and Jamie was invited to host his own weekly radio show on BBC Radio 2, Britain's most popular radio station. Jamie’s show has gone from strength to strength, featuring live music and guest interviews with talent across the jazz genre. Guests have included Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck alongside surprises such as Clint Eastwood, Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Sir Paul McCartney. The show is now syndicated around the world and has won some of the biggest accolades in radio. The BBC have also asked Jamie to front their strand for up and coming talent, BBC Introducing, for which he will host a variety of activities in 2015.
Ten years on from his first major recording contract, Jamie and Universal entered into a new deal that moved his label base to the iconic Island Records, historic home of U2, Bob Marley and Grace Jones and current label of Mumford & Sons, Disclosure and Florence and the Machine. His artistic freedom guaranteed, Jamie created his most mainstream song based album yet, 'Momentum'. Produced by Jim Abbiss, known mostly for his work with the Arctic Monkeys and Adele with extra production by Dan the Automator and Ben Lamdin. A tie up with San Miguel beer in Spain which gave the record it's first number one single in the country with Everything You Didn’t Do.
The Momentum album was quickly followed by a record initially recorded just for the fun. After the more mainstream recording sessions of Momentum, Jamie felt he had a jazz itch to scratch. Three studio days later, and the session masters of what would become Interlude were done. A passion project, the tracks were recorded, with a big band, in one room in one take. A jazz album through and through, the choice of tunes was very much influenced by his radio show. LP Producer Benedic Lamdin (also know as Nostalgia 77) was a previous guest on the show, and the two duets on the record are with singers for whom Jamie's show was a springboard mainstream success - Blue Note’s Gregory Porter and Sony’s Laura Mvula. To launch the album, Jamie played some of the most iconic jazz clubs in the world, such as The Blue Note in New York and London’s Ronnie Scotts, squeezing his 12 piece big band onto the tiny club stages. Quite a feat, but worth it for the lucky fans who managed to get a ticket. At the other end of the live scale, these intimate shows and promo for the record have been interspersed with US arena shows with Billy Joel. It is Jamie’s first experience opening for another artist, and the audiences at Madison Square Garden and beyond have been generous in showing their love for the young British piano man.
Alongside his songwriting ability, flair as a performer, and natural aptitude as a broadcaster, Jamie has taken his long term love of photography a step further by teaming up with Leica cameras to produce all the shots for Interlude’s deluxe artwork which can be been on display at Leica’s galleries in Germany and London as well as in the booklet for the album itself. The musician has also turned magazine publisher. Inspired by Dave Eggars’ Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterley Concern, Jamie created The 88, ‘an occasional magazine for the adventurous thinker’ the heavyweight journal is a collection of words and pictures curated by Jamie, featuring contributions from his friends.