For Sebastian’s regular London Column in the German magazine JAZZTHETIK(*), he spoke to Norma Winstone in mid-May, to discover that she is working on a new album project…
In a world where so many musicians feel a constant pressure to keep busy, to stream as many gigs from their homes as possible, it felt like finding an oasis of calm to step into a quieter and more reflective world. I talked by phone in mid-May with one of the greats of European jazz, Norma Winstone.
The singer lives with her partner in their house by the Kent coast where they enjoy tending their garden. Naturally she regrets the gigs that have been cancelled for the time being. She had been particularly looking forward, for example, to a concert with Pablo Held (“He’s so good at everything,” she enthuses), a tour to Scandinavia playing the music of Kenny Wheeler, and even one concert with percussion legend Marilyn Mazur : “Lockdown came at what would have been quite a nice time for me,” she reflects.
She is, however, working on a fascinating new project. The background to it is that she wrote to Steve Swallow with the request for a reliable chart and chords for just one of his songs. His response was instant, unexpectedly keen, and went much further. “You’ve prodded a sleeping dog,” he wrote, and explained that he had had a wish for a long time to make a recording of tunes of his with words by Norma Winstone. Some that already exist, and some that are now in the process of being revised or newly written.
Norma Winstone says that her process of developing lyrics for tunes tends to be a long one: “There are always things I want to write words for. I find it hard work, and I tend to put it off.” But the impetus from Steve Swallow has fired her enthusiasm. She remarks with her typical twinkling yet dark humour: “It will get recorded – if we all live long enough…”
This long process and other impulses have take Winstone to re-visit some of her old recordings. She goes back to the piano chords at the beginning of “The Tunnel” from the first Azimuth album. “I realised how important the chords beforehand from John [Taylor] were. They inspired me to write words. I was quite amazed… How bright Kenny [Wheeler]’s sound was…” And other rediscoveries? “Café” from “omewhere Called Home. Tony [Coe] on clarinet is out of this world, definitely special!” She finds joy in that re-discovery: “I knew that things were good – or different. But I was amazed at how good they sounded.”