Norma Winstone-Descansado: Songs For Films.

Label: ECM Records.

There aren’t many British jazz singers who have enjoyed the longevity, commercial success and critical acclaim that Norma Winstone MBE has enjoyed over a career that has lasted over fifty years. Despite all the commercial success, critical acclaim and awards, the seventy-six year old shows no signs of slowing down, and recently released a new album on ECM, Descansado: Songs For Films. It features twelve songs, including six where  Norma Winstone wrote lyrics to the instrumental melodies. This is a reminder that Norma Winstone isn’t just a talented singer, but also a gifted lyricist. Many people will find this ironic, as Norma Winstone is best known for her wordless improvisations. However, Descansado: Songs For Films shows another side to Norma Winstone, whose story began in the midst of World War II.

Norma Winstone was born on the ’23rd’ of September 1941, in Bow, in East London, which was devastated by a German bombers during World War II. However, as normality returned to London in the post war years, the young Norma Winstone started to play the piano. This would stand her in good stead later in life   

By the early sixties, Norma Winstone started singing in bands in the clubs around Dagenham in Essex. Over the next few years, Norma Winstone served what was akin to a musical apprenticeship,  as she became a familiar face on the London club scene. That was where Norma Winstone learned to control her vocal which wasn’t just pure but at times powerful. This she had honed on the club scene, and by the time she met pianist and composer Michael Garrick in 1968, was ready to move on.

Michael Garrick had spotted Norma Winstone’s potential the first time he first heard her sing that night in 1968. After she came of the stage, Michael Garrick introduced himself to Norma Winstone and asked her to sit in with his band at a forthcoming gig. When she agreed, he wrote out a list of songs that she had to learn.

On the night of the concert, Norma Winstone took to the stage with Michael Garrick’s band, and began singing the songs she had been asked to learn. Michael Garrick was so impressed after hearing her sing, that he asked her to sing a few more songs and take over from the saxophonist who had recently left the band. The only problem was that when Norma Winstone looked at the parts, there were no lyrics. Instead, there were some written melodies, and on occasions the saxophonist had riffed on a lone chord. Many singers would’ve been put off by the lack of lyrics. Not Norma Winstone who started to improvise, using the vowel based wordless improvisation that she would become famous for. Those in the audience had witnessed musical history being made.

A year after joining forces with Michael Garrick in 1968, Norma Winstone made her recording debut on the Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva Quartet’s 1969 album Hum Dono. This was the first of over 150 appearances Norma Winstone would make over the next fifty years.

In 1970, The Michael Garrick Sextet With Norma Winstone released the British jazz classic The Heart Is A Lotus. A year later, Norma Winstone was voted the top vocalist in the Melody Maker jazz poll. Having sung on two important British jazz albums, Norma Winstone was now an award-winning vocalist.

The following year, 1972, Norma Winstone released her much-anticipated debut solo album Edge Of Time. It featured the great and good of British jazz, on what’s regarded as one of Norma Winstone’s finest solo albums. However, it would be a while before Norma Winstone released the followup.

After releasing Edge Of Time, Norma Winstone was a member of Ian Carr’s Nucleus when he recorded the jazz rock concept album Labyrinth, which was based on the Greek myth about the Minotaur. When Labyrinth was released in 1973, the album became a cult classic and introduced Norma Winstone to a new audience. So did the years she spent with a new band Azimuth.

By 1977, Norma Winstone was a member of the British jazz trio Azimuth, which featured pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Azimuth released their debut eponymous debut album to widespread critical acclaim in March 1977 and it was hailed a British improv classic.

Azimuth returned with the atmospheric improv of The Touchstone  in 1978. The group’s third album was Départ which was a collaboration with American guitarist Ralph Towner, which was released in 1980. It would be another five years before Azimuth returned with a new album.

Over the next five years, Norma Winstone worked on a number of projects, but still found time to record Azimuth’s fourth album. This was Azimuth ’85, which was released in March 1985. Nothing more was heard of Azimuth  until 1995 when they released How It Was Then… Never Again which was the band’s swan-song.

Two years later, Norma Winstone returned with her long-awaited sophomore album Somewhere Called Home in 1987. It was released to the same critical acclaim as Edge Of Time fifteen years earlier in 1972.

Norma Winstone seemed in no rush to release her third solo album, and over the next eight years, recorded albums with Vocal Summit and the Norwegian jazz band Fairplay. She also recorded Freedom Jazz Dance with Mona Larsen which was credited to NormaMona, when it was released in July 1995. However, later in 1995, Norma Winstone released her third solo album Well Kept Secret in 1995. It had been well worth the wait, and featured Norma Winstone at her very best. 

Just three years later, in 1998, Norma Winstone returned with her fourth solo album Manhattan In The Rain which was released to critical acclaimed. So was Norma Winstone’s collaboration with pianist John Taylor .. Like Song, Like Weather when it was released a year later in 1999. As the new millennia approached, Norma Winstone was one of the top female jazz singers not just in Britain, but Europe.

As new millennia sawed, this was the start of one of the busiest periods of Norma Winstone’s career. She worked on other artists and groups albums, and collaborated on several projects. This included  Songs and Lullabies which was a collaborations between Fred Hersch and Norma Winstone which was released in 2003. The same year, Norma Winstone, Glauco Venier and Klaus Gesing released the album Chamber Music. It was just the latest project that featured Norma Winstone’s vocals.

While she was kept busy over the next three-year, Norma Winstone was joined by The NDR Big Band on her 2006 album It’s Later Than You Think. The same year, Norma Winstone renewed her acquaintance with the man who gave her big break, Michael Garrick. Norma Winstone became the featured vocalist on the Michael Garrick Jazz Britannia Orchestra’s 2006 album Children Of Time. It was like old times for the two old friends and colleagues.

On the ‘23rd’ of February 2006 and then on the ‘14th’ of December 2006, Norma Winstone joined forces with the Stan Tracey Trio and Bobby Wellins to record twenty tracks that later became the double album Amoroso…Only More So. The album featured what was essentially a British jazz supergroup, who sadly, released only album in 2007. The same year, Norma Winstone was awarded an MBE for her services to music.

In 2008, Norma Winstone returned with her fifth solo album Distances, which marked her return to ECM Records. Just like previous albums, Distances was released to plaudits and praise. 

It was a similar case when the Michael Garrick Jazz Orchestra which featured Norma Winstone released Yet Another Spring in July 2009. This was forty years after Norma Winstone first sat in with Michael Garrick’s band in 1969. A lot had happened since then, and Norma Winstone was regarded as one of the legends of British jazz. 

Two years later in 2011, Here’s A Song For You was released by Mike Gibbs with The NDR Big Band featuring Norma Winstone. By then, Norman Winstone had featured on around 150 albums, and had just celebrated her seventieth birthday. However, she wasn’t ready to retire.

The following year, Kenny Wheeler, another of Norma Winstone’s old friends invited her to part in a new project he was working on with the London Vocal Project. That was how Norma Winstone found herself at the Red Gables Studio, London between the ‘4th’ and ‘8th’ of June 2012.  During that four-day period, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone and London Vocal Project recorded the album Mirrors, which was released in 2013. However, the next project Norma Winstone would work on, was a solo album.

Dance Without Answer was released on ECM Records in 2014, and found favour with critics who lauded the album. Despite the quality of the music on Dance Without Answer, it would be the best part of four years before Norma Winstone released Descansado: Songs For Films on ECM Records.

Originally, six of the twelve tracks on Descansado: Songs For Films were instrumentals that had featured on films of Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorcese and Wim Wenders. Norma Winstone who is known as a talented lyricist set about writing lyrics to the instrumental melodies. Once she had written the lyrics, Norma Winstone headed into the studio to record what became Descansado: Songs For Films.

Joining Norma Winstone when the recording of Descansado: Songs For Films began was pianist Glauco Venier, percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, Mario Brunelli on violoncello and Klaus Gesing on soprano saxophonist and bass clarinet. Producing Descansado: Songs For Films was  Manfred Eicher the founder of ECM Records. They recently released Descansado: Songs For Films, which is the first album from Norma Winstone in nearly four years.

Opening Descansado: Songs For Films is His Eyes, Her Eyes, which is  the theme to The Thomas Crown Affair and features lyrics penned by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. The minimalist arrangement features just a lone piano, as Norma Winstone delivers a halting and emotionally charged vocal before the soprano saxophone adds the finishing touches to a beautiful cover of a familiar song.

What Is A Youth? is the love theme to Romeo And Juliet which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and released fifty years ago in 1968. Initially, just the  piano, ushers in Norma Winston’s tender, deliberate  vocal, before the cello, percussion and clarinet, provide a backdrop which later, is rich in imagery as it skips along. In doing so, it provides the perfect and realistic accompaniment as Norma Winstone delivers a  ruminative and haunting vocal.

Norma Winstone penned the lyrics to  Armando Trovajoli’s Descansado (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow) and delivers a rueful, emotive vocal as a piano, percussion, clarinet and cello accompany her. It’s a song that may not work as well for a younger singer. However, it’s perfectly suited to Norma Winstone uses all her musical and life experience to good use, as she breaths meaning and emotion into the lyrics.

Vivre sa vie was the title-track to Jon-Luc Goddard’s 1962 film, which was written by Michael Legrand. The arrangement is understated with the piano and saxophone creating a wistful backdrop for Norma Winstone’s occasional trademark tender wordless vocals. They flit in and out of this beautiful, haunting and poignant cinematic track as where Norma Winstone combines jazz and pop.

Madredeus’ wrote Lisbon Story, which was the title-track to Wim Wenders’ 1994 film. Once again, Norma Winstone adds ethereal wordless vocals which combine with the piano, soprano saxophone and percussion which latterly add an element of dram as this familiar theme is reinvented.

When the film Malena was released in 2000, it featured a score by the legendary composer Ennio Morricone. Against a backdrop that features piano, percussion, cello and later a clarinet, Norma Winstone is delivers one of her finest vocals on Descansado: Songs For Films. It’s wistful and full of sadness as she lives the lyrics.

Norma Winstone wrote the lyrics to Il Postino which was the title-track to Michael Radford’s 1984 film. Against an arrangement which features subtle piano and occasional interjections from the clarinet, Norma Winstone delivers another emotive vocal where her lyrics deals with everything from tragedy to pleasure, regret, loneliness and a sense of hopeless that is impossible to shift. It’s a powerful and poignant song that is truly memorable.

One of the great European directors of his generation was Federico Fellini, who directed Amarcord which was released in 1973. Norma Winstone wrote beautiful lyrics to Amarcord (I Remember) where she showcases her talent as a singer and lyricist.

Meryton Townhall featured in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, where the violincello, deliberate piano and galloping percussion join the saxophone set the scene for Norma Winstone’s ethereal wordless vocal. It soars above the arrangement, before skipping along, as it becomes part of what could be realistic cinematic backdrop that paints pictures in the mind’s eye

Henry V was directed by Laurence Olivier, and released in 1944. Norma Winstone adds lyrics to William Walton’s music, and the song becomes Touch Her Soft Lips And Part. Its lyrics are full of sadness, but also feature beauty which is omnipresent while the arrangement features wistful strings and a thoughtful piano. Together, they provide the perfect backdrop to one of the most beautiful songs on Descansado: Songs For Films.

Theme (So Close To Me Blues) featured in Martin Scorcese’s 1976 classic film Taxi Driver, and was written by Bernard Herrmann. Norma Winstone wrote the lyrics which she delivers against an arrangement that is moody, broody and dramatic. Sometimes, though, it’s almost understated which allows Norma Winstone’s vocal to centre-stage as she documents the grim reality and dangers of city life, where it seems everyone is out to outdo everyone else make a quick buck. It’s a poignant song which still rings true forty-two years later.

Closing Descansado: Songs For Films is the piano version of Vivre sa vie. Although it lasts just a minute, its melancholy beauty leaves a lasting impression, and closes the album on a high.

Over fifty years after seventy-six year old Norma Winstone’s singing career began, the veteran singer and lyricist recently returned with Descansado: Songs For Films which was released by ECM Records. It features twelve tracks, with Norma Winstone reinventing familiar songs, and adding her trademark wordless vocals to other tracks. However, on six tracks Norma Winstone puts her songwriting skills to good use, when she writes lyrics to the instrumental melodies. They’re  a reminder if any was needed that Norma Winstone is much more than just a talented singer, and is also a gifted lyricist. Many people will find this ironic, as Norma Winstone is best known for her wordless improvisations. That has been the case for nearly fifty years, but Descansado: Songs For Films shows the different sides to Norma Winstone.

The different sides of Norma Winstone play their part in the sound and success of Descansado: Songs For Films, which features music that is beautiful, emotive, ethereal, haunting, hopeful, melancholy, poignant powerful, rueful, ruminative, thought-provoking and wistful. Other times, the songs are full of hurt, regret and sadness as  Descansado: Songs For Films becomes an emotional roller coaster.

That is because of Norma Winstone’s ability to breath life, meaning and emotion into the songs on Descansado: Songs For Films. However, her small, but tight and versatile band do their part, and provide the perfect backdrop on each the twelve songs. They’re part of Descansado: Songs For Films which is a cinematic opus from one of the greatest British jazz vocalists of her generation, Norma Winstone.

Norma Winstone-Descansado: Songs For Films.

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