Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All Rights Reserved.
In my loft there is a pile of largely unmarked minidisks. One of them, dating back to July 2000, contains four tracks recorded live by the sixteen year old Amy Winehouse.
“Send her along” I said cheerfully, “We don’t audition; she’ll just join in if she wants to”.
The following Saturday, a typical North London schoolgirl appeared at the Cockpit. In a voice only slightly higher than that of Michael Caine, she said, in one breath, “ullomynameisAmyWinehousethat’saJewishname”.
I sent her through to the singers’ rehearsal room, and for the next few weeks, she sat in the corner smoking for England, not joining in with anything they were doing but in the words of Annabel Williams, her singing teacher, “Whatever we were doing, she nailed it in one”.
|Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All righs reserved.
“I don’t know your repertoire, but don’t worry I’ll learn them on the tube”.
She was a good as her word, she came through the door having learnt four songs, and sung them perfectly without any leadsheet or even a set if words. Saxophonist Alan Stuart commented, “Are you going to sign her? Because if you don’t, I will. She’s going to be a superstar”.
She left us not long afterwards, because she had hoped to sing standards with NYJO and found herself singing songs by me and other NYJO writers. She formed a trio of NYJO 2 players including drummer, Bradley Webb, and she set off around the jazz clubs. I can honestly say, she had the best jazz voice of any young singer I have ever heard, learnt from her taxi driver father, Mitch. Jewish taxi drivers having the best musical taste of anyone!
A few months later, I was approached by Simon Fuller’s 19 Management, who had launched the Spice Girls, to give them a list of young female singers. I figured that they and Amy deserved each other, so passed on her numbers to them and she went to the audition, along with singers such as Annabel Williams and Rachel Calladine.
The rest is history, and for some reason, I was sent two copies of her first album called, Frank. Some of the tracks of which are excellent jazz singing. But then, she hooked up with the ‘pop world’ and married her songs to street rhythms and became the pop icon that we all know.
When she died, on Saturday 23rd July 2011, the pop world lost an icon. The jazz world had lost a great jazz singer several years earlier.