I return once again on a day full of luminary birth-a-versaries with one you might not have heard of, but who's been operating at the very toppermost level of musicking for the last half century.
Today is the 76th birthday of one of my all-time favorite vocalists. I would have tributed her 75th last year, but that was John Coltrane's 90th, so I gave him the nod. All you Bruce Springsteen underbosses will have to wait until two years from today when he turns 70, if I somehow live that long. I apologize in advance.
As for today's honoree, there really isn't any way to describe her style, or really the multitude of styles she has featured over a five-decade career at the forefront of British Jazz. Her career divides roughly into two phases, with the first half seeing her make just one solo record, but as an honored guest on ten million essential records by a million UK Jazz titans.
The second half -- since the 1990s or so -- has had her release a passel of incredible albums under her own name, whilst still finding time to drop in on the sessions of others. Under either circumstance, this is someone who can sing but a single syllable and there can be no doubt who it is.
She is renowned for two things above all: the swooping, wordless improvisatory style she brings to bands like Azimuth (one of the very most awesome ECM groups), where she often duets note for note with brass and reed instruments, and the songstress side of her personality, where she pens incredibly unique lyrics of her own and sings them with her band.
Sometimes you even get both in one composition, but whatever she has done or is doing, you are getting 101% Norma Winstone, front and center. Whether she is scatting over a tight fusion groove or intoning a melancholic torch song as only she can, this is surely one of the greatest living singers still inhabiting our spiraling world.
I am trying to recall the first time I heard her right this minute... I can't pinpoint it exactly but it must have been in the early 1990s when I was getting into insanely tremendous UK Jazz stalwarts like Mike Gibbs and Michael Garrick, because she is all over their records beginning in the late 1960s.
Possessed of one of the purest, most bell-like tones ever vocalized, as well as diction that could only be described as worthy of a professional diplomatic translator in a national Embassy somewhere, this is absolutely one of the unsung heroes of the music of our age.
To honor this most elegant voice, I have placed cloudward another one of my crazy compilations. Why this has never been attempted beyond a single-CD, unofficial mix from years ago that I have never even seen I cannot say, but over the last years I have constructed a 3CD compendium spanning her long career that I finally finished in April and of which I am perhaps prouder than any other mix I've done.
This features tracks from all phases of her journey, with two discs of band performances sandwiching a disc of her lush, piano-based ballad material. I'd put this up against any representation of her music and if I had to pick just one comp I've done to be officially put out there, it might be this one.
How It Was Then
01 Quiet Departures (excerpt) (with Eberhard Weber)
02 How It Was Then (with Azimuth)
03 Perkins Landing
04 Autumn King (with Mike Westbrook)
05 Fellow Feeling (with Michael Garrick)
06 Jaipur (with Joe Harriott & Amancio D'Silva)
07 Magic Garden (with Mike Westbrook)
08 Summer Sounds, Summer Sights (with Mike Taylor Remembered) (mono mix)
09 After Long Silence (with Neil Ardley)
10 Song for Someone (with Kenny Wheeler)
11 Fool Talk (with Will Power)
12 The Heart Is a Lotus (with Michael Garrick)
13 Timewind (with Mike Taylor Remembered)
14 Mother Lou (with Jazztrack) (live excerpt)
15 Breughel (with Kenny Wheeler Vocal Project)
01 En Mort d'en Joan de Cucanh
02 Cradle Song (Hoy Nazan)
03 A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing
04 Live to Tell
05 Just Sometimes
06 Azimuth (excerpt) (with Azimuth)
07 Sea Lady
08 Drifter (with Glauco Venier & Klaus Gesing)
09 San Diego Serenade (with Glauco Venier & Klaus Gesing)
10 I See You (with Mike Taylor Remembered)
11 Song of Love
12 It Never Was You
13 Distance (with Glauco Venier & Klaus Gesing)
14 A Wish (with Fred Hersch)
15 Songs for a Child
16 The Longest Day (with Azimuth & Ralph Towner)
17 Harvest (with Fairplay)
18 Here Comes the Flood (with Rusconi & Fred Frith)
01 O (live) (with Azimuth)
02 Jumping Off the Sun (with Mike Taylor Remembered)
03 Metropolis III (with Mike Westbrook)
04 Home Stretch Blues (with Michael Garrick Band)
05 Bull-Dance (with Nucleus)
06 Sequence 73 (excerpt) (with Paul Rutherford)
07 Heyday (reprise) (with Will Power)
08 Lime Blossom (with Michael Garrick)
09 Towards Tranquillity (with Neil Ardley)
10 Blue Poppies (with Michael Garrick Band)
11 Ariadne (with Nucleus)
12 Enjoy this Day
Total time: 3:59:01
4-hour career overview, compiled and remastered by EN from the best available sources over the period of several years
1.22 GB FLAC here
Even if you don't know Norma Winstone from Norman Mailer, I'd advise taking the Saturday chance on this little aggregation.... you never know, you might learn something before it's done. Principally the lesson on offer -- unspooled across this four hours of unparalleled vocal power and control -- is that you've just discovered your new favorite singer, born this day in 1941!--J.