The New Norma

As she prepares for The Whale on March 7th, jazz legend Norma Winstone reveals her musical inspirations.

The truly hip always dance to their own Billy Cobham, especially when everyone else is stuck in the same old, worn-out grooves.

Even at the beginning of her career, singing in bands around Dagenham in the early 1960s, Norma Winstone felt different.

“I’ve always been on the edge,” she told Jazz In Europe back in 2020, “always felt like I was swimming against the tide, and somehow couldn’t stop.”

It’s this edge that has seen the 82-year-old Winstone spend seven decades performing around the world, releasing acclaimed albums, and receiving awards (including an MBE in 2007) with ridiculous regularity.

From solo albums such as Somewhere Called Home (1987) and Distances (2008) to her time as part of the Azimuth trio with then-husband John Taylor and collaborations with everyone from Michael Garrick and Jimmy Rowles to Kenny Wheeler and Fred Hersch, Winstone’s restless curiousity meant that the songs never remained the same.

And just to prove that truly original music never fades away, Canadian rapper Drake recently sampled Winstone’s vocal from the 1977 Azimuth track The Tunnel for IDGAF on his 2023 album, For All The Dogs.

Coming to The Whale on Thursday, March 7th (as part of the Kaleidoscope Night series) with long-time collaborator Tommy Halferty on guitar and Steve Watts on double bass, we were more than a little curious to find out what songs have inspired Norma Winstone over the years.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a jukebox playlist that’s sure to get you squarely in the feels…

Music was always important in my family.

My father was in the army during the war and apparently wrote to my mother saying that he had heard this wonderful singer on field radio. That was Frank Sinatra, probably singing Nancy With The Laughing Face. So Sinatra was God in our house and I guess still is for me.

Everything we heard was via the radio, so there were many versions of songs from The Great American Songbook which I heard and learned.

I knew that I wanted to sing songs like that. Of course I then heard Ella Fitzgerald and her singing was also a great influence on me. I began collecting records when I was around 14, I think, and the first LP I bought was Ella and Louis, and it still has a wonderful effect even now, whenever I hear something like Isn’t This A Lovely Day?. The second record I bought was Only The Lonely by Sinatra.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s recording Jazz Impressions of the USA featuring Paul Desmond on alto is another favourite.

His playing was so lyrical that I didn’t know he was improvising, I assumed it was all written and I played it so much that I learned the solos. Plain Song was my favourite.

Next was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Most jazz musicians cite this as a turning point. Blue in Green would be great to hear. I felt immediately that I’d love to be a voice in music like that. I had no idea how but somehow I wound up often using the voice as a sound and part of a piece, as in Kenny Wheeler’s big band, and on various Azimuth tracks.

Of course, I loved John Coltrane and his version of Out Of This World was a great influence on me, and I love to hear John Taylor playing The Longest Day from the Azimuth recording Depart, and anything by Kenny Wheeler still impresses and moves me.

Joni Mitchell with Vince Mendoza For the Roses is just magnificent, whilst Randy Newman’s Ghosts is a strange and affecting little piece.

Playing The Whale on Thursday, March 7th, you can grab your ticket for Norma Winstone right here:



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