Jamie Cullum at The London Palladium, Weds 6/10/21
I’ve followed Jamie’s career – and been inspired by it – for around for 20 years now.
From smaller gigs, jazz weekenders (we had breakfast together at Margate I seem to remember!), to his worldwide breakthrough with “Twenty Something” onwards, Love Supreme and huge festivals and his messianic Radio 2 show spreading the word to new generations.
So it was with great pleasure and awe that I approached London’s iconic Palladium tonight to see a jazz piano player/singer/songwriter sell out two nights with his 10-piece band in 2021. What a huge achievement in itself, and what an amazing show. World class, as good as it gets. Perfectly paced, with a huge range of styles, inexhaustible energy, and superb musicianship all round. Jamie is astounding, and deserving of his successes.
The gig got off to a very good start with support act Sam Wills, who captivated the capacity crowd with the quality of his voice, keyboard, songs and his singular band of Ed Blakely.
The sound throughout was crystal clear, which was a good indication of the engineering for the main act to come.
The crowd gave Jamie a hero’s welcome as he bounced onto the stage, and as he thanked everyone, he acknowledged that many had waited two-and-a-half years to see this show since buying their tickets in 2019, thanks to the pandemic. (One of his parting comments later as he left after the encores was “You were worth the wait” – which summed up the love flowing in both directions).
He immediately got everyone on his side by summing up the lost months with his poignant song Age of Anxiety, starting with just piano and voice, before his first-class band joined in.
Followed by (I Wish I Was) Taller, and These are the Days I’ve Been Missing, we were all on board the Cullum train for wherever he wanted to take us.
The energy didn’t drop – even in the quieter numbers – and a near two hours flew by.
The catchy songs kept on coming with almost no break, and covering a massive range of styles – from swing, New Orleans, pop, ballads, choral, dance, to zydeco and boogaloo. Jamie is a thoughtful songwriter, always surprising with his lyrics eg “Throw me a rope; will I climb or will I choke”
Jamie is a superb showman – the whole show was superbly crafted but proving that old showbiz maxim of how much work has to go in to make something appear so effortless. He is very generous in sharing the limelight with his team: Each of the 10-piece band members had their moments of glory, and all were amazingly good. There was a genuine feeling of them loving their jobs, this night, and each other.
Special mention must go to drummer, who nailed the whole thing down throughout, perfectly jumping between the non-stop tempo/style/meter changes… not to mention emerging from his drum solo into a 15 meter groove!
As a jazz musician myself, a highlight for me was a Quintet version of Porter’s I Get A Kick, very cleverly arranged with the horns playing Groovin’ High riffs in between the lines (and soloing on the latter). Suddenly 2,300 people – many of whom probably wouldn’t identify as jazz fans – were listening to mainstream swing and bebop… clapping solos… 70 years on from when Nat King Cole had played on this same stage.
Band line-up changes continued apace – keeping the interest up – when Jamie switched to Trio format, then again solo at the piano. I loved his wistful solo version of What A Difference (A Day Made), with gorgeous re-harmonisations and vocal sweeps. The Palladium could have been a tiny Manhattan piano bar at 3am.
Then we were off again with the full band for a high-octane romp through Hang Your Lights from his 2020 Christmas album… “I was very nervous about going anywhere near the walled garden created by Michael Bublé, so I wrote my own 10 songs for it!”.
Next we had 8 of the musicians down the front of the stage with just Loz Garrett’s bass, singing as a beautiful chorale; then straight back to full-throttle 10-piece with the backing singers dancing and Jamie off the stage and in the audience (much to everyone’s delight). With well-practised persuasion he had everyone – the whole Palladium – on their feet dancing and waving to his command.
A series of encores followed, whereupon the band left the stage to the star to sing “You And Me Are Gone”.
He finished the show in this wonderful place just as he had started out his London career – alone with a piano and a mic, demonstrating consummately his musicianship and passion for the music, on which everything else in the evening – and the past 20 years – was built.
Catch this Tour wherever you can.
Neal Richardson, Seaford UK
6th October 2021
PS I will be talking about the show on the #splashpointjazzshow Livestream 7/10/21 7pm UK (on FB and YT)