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Norma Winstone Britain's Poetic Jazz Singer

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Norma Winstone
Veteran jazz vocalist Norma Winstone's new CD, Distances, features lyrics of her own, plus those by Peter Gabriel, Cole Porter and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

IN A CAREER SPANNING FIVE DECADES, British jazz vocalist Norma Winstone has pioneered, experimented and collaborated to push her music to the cutting edge. She's developed “wordless" vocals, written her own lyrics and covered the classics, always ending up with something new.

The dark atmosphere in Winstone's cover of Cole Porter's “Every Time We Say Goodbye" was created, in part, by the two other musicians in her trio: Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German clarinetist/saxophonist Klaus Gesing. Together, they've released a new CD, Distances, on the ECM label.

Winstone didn't start out as a lyricist but says that, years ago, she felt a need to expand her repertoire. “I heard, on an ECM recording by Egberto Gismonti, a piece called 'Caf,'" Winstone says. “And I loved it, and I thought I could imagine myself singing that. But there aren't any words, and I didn't know any lyricists, and so I thought, well, I've have a try myself. And people said, 'Wow, that's absolutely right for that piece of music,' and Egberto liked them, and so I just went on from there."

Winstone's approach to the words in a song is organic. She says she thinks of the voice as a sound and doesn't want the notes to sound “alien" to the music, as if they've been added on. “For me, the words are things I discover in the music," she says. “I don't like words that are just put together, and you say, 'I have enough syllables there and that fits that line.' I don't work like that. The words have to come out of the music."

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