Norma Winstone is an ECM recording artist and global star.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, she is held internationally in high regard for singing with small groups, big bands and orchestras and also for her remarkable ability to improvise.
“.. a superb example of state-of-the-art, imaginative, virtually beyond-definition singing.”
– Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
“One of the Glories of contemporary Jazz”
– Jazz Journal
“Right now, she is at the peak of her form… there is no jazz singer in the country to touch her.”
– Alyn Shipton, The Times, London
“Sets herself impossibly high standards, and then surpasses them.”
– Tony Sloman, Pizza On the Park
“Norma Winstone’s instrument: an unfettered intelligence spinning tales with language…or without”
– Thomas Conrad, Down Beat Magazine
“Her spare, subtle and intelligent approach to improvisation, jazz standards, impressionistic tone poetry like a vocal Jan Garbarek and the uncovering of overlooked songs that deserve to be classics, put her in the forefront of European singers.”
– John Fordham, The Guardian
“It is unlikely that there is a better jazz singer than Miss Winstone. She has none of the histrionics which mar so much of the work of her contemporaries, and one is left with tasteful ideas, expressed in pure musical form.”
– Steve Voce, Jersey Evening Post
“.. a one-of-a-kind singer blessed with an ear nonpareil… tones so pure, phrasing so unique and captivating, as to make each song an aural adventure.”
– The Skanner, Portland, Oregon
Norma Winstone was born in London and first attracted attention in the late sixties when she shared the bill at Ronnie Scott’s club with Roland Kirk. Although she was known initially for evolving her own wordless approach to improvisation, her extraordinary versatility means she is equally at home with the standards repertoire, performing with small groups, orchestras and big bands. She joined Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick and sang with John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs and John Taylor, and worked extensively with many of the major European names and visiting Americans.
In 1971 she was voted top singer in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll and subsequently recorded her own album ‘Edge of Time‘ for Decca, which although long deleted has now been re-released as a CD on the Disconforme label. In the late seventies she joined pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler to form the group Azimuth, which was described by Richard Williams of The Times as “one of the most imaginatively conceived and delicately balanced of all contemporary chamber jazz groups“. In this setting she combines the instrumental use of the voice with words, most of which she writes herself. Azimuth has recorded several albums on the ECM label (the first three of which have been re-issued as a CD boxed set). Azimuth played a Derby Jazz date back in the late 70s. Their CD ‘How It Was Then… Never Again‘ was released in May 1995, and received four stars in Down Beat magazine.
Her own legendary album ‘Somewhere Called Home‘ on the ECM label is widely considered to be a classic. In recent years she has become known as a very fine lyricist, writing words to compositions by Ralph Towner, and Brazilian composers Egberto Gismonti and Ivan Lins (who has recorded her English lyrics to his song ‘Vieste‘). She has a special affinity with the music of Steve Swallow, and has written lyrics to many of his compositions, most notably ‘Ladies in Mercedes‘, which has become a standard.
Her voice became an important part of the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s big band, and can be heard in this context on the ECM double CD ‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles‘ which also features John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Peter Erskine and John Taylor.
Her CD ‘Well Kept Secret‘, recorded with the legendary American pianist Jimmy Rowles, featuring George Mraz on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums, was given a four star rating in Down Beat magazine. Here Norma sings a selection of rare jazz standards, including Jimmy’s famous tune ‘The Peacocks’ for which she wrote lyrics and re-titled ‘A Timeless Place‘. This piece has since been recorded by other artists including jazz singer Mark Murphy, and The Swingle Singers.
Her CD ‘Manhattan In The Rain‘, with pianist Steve Gray, bassist Chris Laurence and special guest saxophonist Tony Coe consists of unusual and classic standards, described by Dave Gelly in The Observer as “A delectable set of songs… masterly and enthralling“.
A CD of duo performances with pianist John Taylor entitled ‘Like Song, Like Weather‘ on the Enodoc label was described by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times as “…a superb example of state-of-the-art, imaginative, virtually beyond-definition singing“.
In July 2001, she won the title of Best Vocalist in the BBC Jazz Awards hosted by Humphrey Lyttleton at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
With American pianist Fred Hersch, she recorded a CD of Fred’s compositions with her lyrics: called ‘Songs and Lullabies‘, available in the US on Sunnyside, and in England on the Enodoc label. Vibraphonist Gary Burton makes a guest appearance on three tracks.
A recording ‘It’s Later than You Think‘, with the marvellous North German Radio big band directed by British writer Colin Towns, was released in Autumn 2006 to coincide with a British tour.
She was one of the stars of the acclaimed Gilles Peterson ‘Jazz Britannia‘ programme shown on BBC 2, from The Barbican which featured influential music of British jazz musicians from the sixties and seventies, along with contemporary jazz artists
A double CD ‘Amoroso…only more so‘, with The Stan Tracey trio and saxophonist Bobby Wellins was released on the Trio label to some five star reviews…
“This is standards-reinvention as it should be done” John Fordham, The Guardian.
“Winstone’s voice and Wellins’ highly vocalised tenor seem made for each other…. Sheer class” Ray Comiskey, The Irish Times.
She continues in the forefront of British jazz and was nominated again in the 2007 and 2008 BBC Jazz Awards for best vocalist.
She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2007.
In 2009 she was awarded the Skoda Jazz Ahead Award in Bremen for her contribution to European Jazz.
Her current group is a trio featuring Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German saxophonist/ bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing.
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