Sunday, January 11, 2015

NORMA WINSTONE: A Musician Who Sings [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Norma Winstone is one of the great jazz vocalists not simply because she is so obviously accomplished in what she does, but the sheer range of her singing embraces everything the jazz vocalist can be called upon to do. Yet no single aspect of jazz singing can be said to be central to her style; she is an interpreter of the American Popular Song par excellence, but she is not a standards singer; she can scat masterfully but she is not a scat singer and she is a brilliantly imaginative free jazz singer but she is not a free jazz musician. Her sight-reading skills have frequently been harnessed to provide a wordless tone color in both small groups and large ensembles; she has explored vocalese; she has worked with electronics and she has explored abstraction and collective improvisation with singers Urzula Dudziak and Jay Clayton (and later Michele Hendricks) in Vocal Summit. She has sung with unusual combinations of instruments and she has sung with orchestras and big bands and she has sung a cappella. Whatever the context, her performances have been both distinguished and distinctive.

Much has been written about the voice-as-an-instrument, but in Norma Winstone’s case, it is fair to say she is a brilliantly imaginative jazz musician whose instrument is her voice. Her style represents one of the first independent developments of jazz vocal technique beyond the borders of the United States.”
- Stuart Nicholson for

“Norma Winstone’s voice is one of the great glories of contemporary Jazz.”
- The Jazz Journal

Had it not been for a mate in England’s response to my request for information about recordings featuring a version of Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, I might never have known about Norma Winstone.

What a real tragedy that would have been. As it was, I had over thirty plus years of catching up to do, but mercifully, Norma has her own website – – and the details of her Jazz journey are all laid out there for others to follow.

And to add to my blessings, not only did this internet friend point out that Norma had sung – sung, mind you! – an adaptation of Dave’s Jazz classic In Your Own Sweet Way, he generously sent me a copy of the long since out-of-print album that this music appeared on – Norma Winstone in Concert With John Taylor [ENO 1].

Recorded in performance before a musically discerning audience at the Guildhall School of Music in August, 1988, the album is an incredible tour de force by both artists.

“She has her own way with a song;” “she is a song stylist;” “she is in the traditional of the great, female Jazz vocalists:” somehow none of these descriptive phrases seem apt when applied to Norma.

Perhaps a better way to state it would be that Norma is an excellent musician who just happens to express herself with voice as her instrument.

Excellence as a musician is not unique to Norma, Carmen [McCrae], Sassy [Sarah Vaughan] and Blossom [Dearie], among others, were all first-rate pianists as well as vocalists.

But Norma’s singing doesn’t come from the piano, it seems to reflect all of the major elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm and texture with a primary emphasis on the latter.

Norma uses the human voice to bring a variety of sonorities to her Jazz vocals.

She sings as thought she was an arranger: one minute bringing the timbre of the brass section into play and, with the next phrase, emphasizing the sounds that reeds and woodwinds might make.

Norma reconstructs a song by altering the “feel” of the tune through her use of multifarious sounds.

“One of the things that makes Winstone so exceptional as a singer is her equal confidence with pure abstraction as with the most straight-forward vocal line. … Like Karin Krog in Norway, she is a fine musician in her own right, a sensitive lyricist as well as an imaginative standards singer.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.].

To afford you an opportunity to listen to this “magisterial singer” with pianist John Taylor’s thoughtful accompaniment, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles developed the following video tribute to Norma on which, you may not be surprised to learn, she and John perform Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way.

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