Breakout artist Jamie Cullum plans to bring crowd to its feet |

Breakout artist Jamie Cullum plans to bring crowd to its feet

Abigail Eagye
British singer-pianist Jamie Cullum makes his Aspen debut headlining the opening of Jazz Aspen Snowmass' June Festival tonight in Rio Grande Park. (

Jamie Cullum’s recipe for success is a smooth blend of pop and jazz with a hint of funk and a dash of R&B.But don’t be fooled. This is no sleepy lounge act.Concertgoers who turn out for Cullum’s show tonight should expect to be surprised.”It really never amounts to what they expect,” said a groggy but somehow lively Cullum, just out of bed and rolling toward Aspen in his tour bus. “They think they’re coming to see a guy with a piano, but it’s more like a rock ‘n’ roll show. It’s important to understand that, because they think they’re coming to see some sort of sedate show, but it’s not.”The 26-year-old Briton’s second album, “Catching Tales,” has been tearing up the charts in Europe, with global sales eclipsing his multiplatinum debut and fast approaching the half-million mark in the United States. Cullum’s first album, “Twentysomething,” earned him a Grammy nomination, and his sophomore effort captured the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine’s contemporary jazz chart in its debut week.

The twentysomething artist, who sold out London’s Royal Albert Hall, and has headlined major venues in New York and Los Angeles, says his rising success on this side of the pond caught him a little off guard.”These American tours have been quite a surprise,” he said. “It’s kind of living a dream in a way, living in a tour bus, touring the United States, getting into trouble.”Cullum says reaching audiences in America is different from climbing the charts in his native England.”The only way to have any success over here is to tour,” he said.Spots on “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel” probably didn’t hurt. Neither did the props from magazine moguls Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. And then there was the boost from VH-1, which included the video from his latest album’s first single in its regular rotation.That track, “Get Your Way,” is a backbeat-driven number featuring celebrated hip-hop DJ Dan “the Automator” Nakamura of Gorillaz fame.

Cullum himself says he likes the song’s “pop hook and sophisticated lyrics. … But it’s just about getting laid.”Cullum says he was inspired to write the song while listening to an old jazz record, and the “swagger of the song reminded me of trying to impress a girl on a date.”On his debut album, Cullum covers a broad spectrum of musical genres. Cullum is known for delivering paradoxically original covers, from acid rock to old Hollywood standards. “It might be somebody else’s melody,” he said, but it’s still hard “to successfully reinterpret someone else’s song. … You have to find a way to make it your own.”Whether crafting his own songs or covering artists from Jimi Hendrix to Frank Sinatra, Cullum says recording his music involves the “same emotional process. You throw all your person and experience and intelligence into it.”Be sure to pump plenty of caffeine into your blood before today’s show. Cullum has earned a reputation as a high-energy performer who says he doesn’t plan to disappoint: “If you’re not on your feet by the end of the show, I’d be surprised.”

Cullum hits the stage at Rio Grande Park at 9 p.m. today, with jazz/soul artist Lizz Wright opening at 7 p.m.The June Festival runs through Sunday. Friday features jazz singer-pianist Diana Krall, at 9 p.m.; there is no opening act for Krall.Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello, headlines Saturday, performing with his band, the Imposters, and special guest New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint. Costello and Toussaint released “The River in Reverse,” a tribute to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, earlier this month. Honky-tonker Delbert McClinton opens the show.The festival closes Sunday with former Phish singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio, performing with his six-piece band. Opening is funk saxophonist Maceo Parker.The festival also includes JAS After Dark shows at the Belly Up: British reggae band Steel Pulse tonight; singer Brandi Carlile, with Gran Bel Fisher opening, Friday; B-Side Players, with the Heavenly States opening, Saturday; and Colorado-based Phish tribute band Phix on Sunday.The free stage on the Cooper Avenue mall features afternoon and evening jazz sets today through Sunday.For full details, go to

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