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 Dusk Fire 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).
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 has become 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“.
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, arranged and directed by the great British writer Colin Towns, was released in Autumn 2006 to coincide with a British tour. This was followed by an album with the same band, “Here’s A Song For You” which features an interesting collection of standards and contemporary songs arranged by the iconic Mike Gibbs.
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
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.
With Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German saxophonist/ bass clarinettist Klaus Gesing she has recorded four albums for the ECM label, the first of which, “Distances” was nominated for a Grammy. Their last recording, “Descansado” consists of new arrangements of music for films and features Italian cellist Mario Brunello and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken.
Norma also works with the Nikki Iles’ group “The Printmakers” comprising some of the UK’s finest musicians.
Awards and Fellowships
Won the title of Best Vocalist in the BBC Jazz Awards hosted by Humphrey Lyttleton at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Won the Prix du Jazz Vocal in France for her ECM album ‘Distances’.
Awarded the Skoda Jazz Ahead Award in Bremen for her contribution to European Jazz.
Album 'Distances' nominated for Grammy Award
Lifetime Achievement Jazz Medal from the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Honorary Fellow at Trinity Laban Conservatoire – incidentally the first Jazz Fellow.
Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music
Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Vocalist
Gold Badge of Merit from British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors
Jazz FM Award for Vocalist of the year
Parliamentary Jazz Award for services to Jazz
Jazz FM Lifetime Achievement Award
Honorary Member Royal Swedish Academy of Music