You’ll notice the heavy presence of a couple of pop icons in this issue.
The cover story on Norah Jones, among other things, reviews the jazz-trained singer/pianist’s unanticipated and remarkable rise to mainstream fame. (The story was written by Kara Manning, who has now penned three cover stories about Jones for this magazine, making her, in our opinion, something of an authority on the subject.) The piece also covers the considerable artistic distance Jones has traveled in the 10 years since she released her breakthrough debut album, Come Away With Me.
Elsewhere, we have one young British phenom, Jamie Cullum, interviewing one slightly older British phenom, Paul McCartney. Recently, McCartney recruited producer Tommy LiPuma, pianist Diana Krall and a talented cast of additional musicians to record an album of standards and old pop tunes (and two new McCartney originals). Cullum gets to the bottom of that story.
Like so many people, I grew up listening to McCartney. I couldn’t get enough of The Beatles. When they broke up, I felt — and still feel — a musical void. Of course I never thought of jazz for a second when listening to the Fab Four. That came later, in the early ’70s, when a string of LiPuma pop-jazz productions for everyone from George Benson and David Sanborn to Michael Franks and Claus Ogerman helped me recover from The Beatles’ demise. Later, I got to know LiPuma, and he ended up introducing me to a lot of great music. I recall a night in the early ’90s, for instance, when he took me to a showcase in Manhattan to see Diana Krall, who was then largely unknown. I figured Tommy’s magic touch would go a long way toward making her a star. In 1997, we sort of acknowledged his — and Krall’s — efforts when we became the first American magazine to feature Diana on a cover.
Years later, I worked briefly with Tommy at Verve when I had my label there. About that time, outside the office, a colleague handed me a CD that turned out to contain music performed by her niece, a young piano-playing jazz singer looking for a break. When I finally got around to spinning the disc, I instantly fell in love with the singer’s voice. A year later, I was sitting in the office of Bruce Lundvall, the head of Blue Note Records, who seemed eager to introduce me to his latest signing. He popped in a disc and there was that voice again. To his surprise, I blurted out, “Norah Jones!” I committed then to running Norah on a JAZZIZ cover, which we did just before she broke in the biggest way imaginable. As it turned out, Norah’s debut album had little, if any, connection to jazz. Nonetheless, the phenomenal success of that record went a long way toward saving a floundering Blue Note.
The world turns. And sometimes it returns. While preparing to run a cover story about Jamie Cullum in our February 2010 issue, I discovered that he was also a dedicated McCartney fan. We spent a lot of time talking about Paul. At one point, I suggested to Jamie that he should interview him. And so he has. The interview was originally broadcast on BBC Radio earlier this year, and we’re pleased to run an abbreviated version of that conversation in this issue. Personally, I’m even more pleased to finally have a good reason to feature one of my favorite artists in the pages of JAZZIZ.
So, yes, in this issue we’re spotlighting two pop icons only obliquely connected to the jazz world, each from a different angle. On the one side there’s McCartney, who has finally recorded the album he’s wanted to make for years. The music isn’t at all what anyone has grown to expect from one of the world’s most popular singers. It’s not Meet the Beatles!, Let It Be, Band on the Run or even 2007’s lovely solo outing Memory Almost Full. As Cullum points out, McCartney’s singing on his latest record sounds at times as if he were channeling the spirit of Chet Baker. On the other side, there’s lovely Norah Jones, a decade into her life as an international star. Much of the music she’s released over the years has been jazz-inflected, but she’s never really considered herself a jazz singer. By now, as she admits, she’s become “a jazz snob’s worse nightmare.” Still, from either angle — McCartney’s or Jones’ — I’ll sleep easy at night knowing that we told each story with the respect and attention it deserves, and knowing that both stories will add to the colorful history of the music we love.
—Michael Fagien (Founder, Editor and Publisher of JAZZIZ)