The bliss of ignorance

I occasionally¬†encounter the¬†first few minutes of Jamie Cullum’s radio show (7pm Tuesdays, Radio 2) as I try to make it home in time to bath the kids. The template is sharp: he’s always on his own and it always sounds like he’s somewhere confined. Usually the confines are his home studio, or a hotel room.

“Evening everyone,” is a fairly typical entree. “This week I’m speaking to you from my room at the Gaston Hotel in Los Angeles. I’m here for the first date of my tour, and to do a bit of promotion for my new record.”

So far, so so. I don’t own any Jamie Cullum records and I have to say I know very little about the bloke. But that, as it turns out, is everything.

“We’ve got a great show for you tonight. There’s a new track from the great Genevieve DeMarchis, some classic sounds from Sonny Humbert, one of the all-time legends of jazz trumpet, and of course we have the incredible crossover artist Anthony ‘Ant’ Perkins, the man who brought bebop into mainstream music with Bebop dewop, a record he cut in 1958 at Copper Hat in Harlem.”

Now, I’m fairly into music, or I used to be. So I count it as a rolling surprise that I’ve only ever recognised a handful of the names Cullum dishes out in his intro. These flurries of jazz royalty, inevitably framed with at least one jazz pronoun and associated with some venue of apparently epochal significance could, as far as I’m concerned, be Cullum reading a list of Murray Gell-Mann’s post-docs and their most favoured New York dive bars.

The experience builds over time, because every week it’s the same. Last week he was in Berlin, bringing us Marlon Duke’s 1938 recording of Springtime on the Chesapeake. The week before he was stopping over in Kuala Lumpur en route to Tokyo for a session at Sotto Tamasu’s Rum Records, and waxing lyrical about Shirley Neuberger’s new arrangement of the classic Hitch Boggins number Aphrodite.

Who? Where? When?

In some ways this is how air travel used to be. I get that feeling of enforced alien-ness, abstracted from my routine, segregated, unfamiliar. I don’t belong. It has the same recharging effect, and that seems hard to find these days, maybe because I have a couple of young kids, or because the ruts are wearing in. Today, more or less everything is familiar.

And if you work in a creative job, that’s bad. I mean, I could try and do something about it. I could book an exotic holiday, pick up a book by a great Russian writer, or maybe even take Russian lessons. But stuff like that seems just a little out of reach, while I’m negotiating the winter-dark lanes of Berkshire.

Tuning into ten minutes of Jamie Cullum, on the other hand, is something even I can manage – and I’m 40.

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