Jamie Cullum once described himself as having the soul of a jazz musician. But his genre-mixing music makes it impossible to confine him to a box, which is just the way the singer-songwriter and instrumentalist likes it.
If his soul is jazz, then his heart is that of a poet and the English graduate has such a bright and expansive way of speaking that he almost waxes lyrical just talking about coming to Sage Gateshead.
He’ll be kicking off a short UK tour here in October in celebration of the release this summer of new album Momentum and, besides playing piano at an intimate gig at the venue, he says he’s been up to listen to music there too and enthuses about our creativity.
“Sage Gateshead is such an amazing place,” he says. “It’s like a brilliant shining beacon of truth and beauty in the UK.
“It seems so much good stuff is happening there.”
Good stuff has been happening for Jamie too. He became a dad again in March, with a second daughter to wife Sophie Dahl, the former model and granddaughter of writer Roald, and his new album is now out.
This is the sixth studio album for the Essex-born musician, who grew up in Wiltshire and has been immersed in music all his life, including pop and hip-hop in his school days, and has sold more than 10m records around the world.
While rooted in jazz, his career has seen several changes of direction but, as he points out, it’s only the older generation of real traditionalists who think strictly in terms of specific genres.
“You don’t find it with young people at all,” he says.
“They’re open to change.
“They’ve grown up around a music culture that’s open and more about sharing.
“It’s different now, from roots music to cinematic screenplays to Louis Armstrong...”
With Momentum – which saw Cullum experiment with everything from iPhone apps to charity shop keyboards and cassette recorders – fans will find something different again.
It reflects a more grown-up Cullum and he’s described it as being about “that crossover period from youth into adulthood where you still have one foot in each”.
It’s a time you look at the world differently and more clearly see both the ugly and beautiful.
It’s also a time for reflection, and album tracks such as Everything You Didn’t Do address issues like ‘have I done enough’? and ‘have I achieved all that I thought I would’?
Cullum says parenthood “gave me more of a feeling for the deepness of things and I looked at the world around me”.
So, alongside the “amazing amount of joy” from having children comes more of an awareness of darkness and “the difficulty of bringing kids into a world that’s far from perfect”. It’s all seeped into the songwriting, but it had never been his intention to set out to embody that crossover period.
Explaining the album title, he says: “I didn’t start out to write an original album – I thought it might be covers – but I got this incredible momentum.
“I felt I was writing songs with a great sense of permanence.”
And, while it’s not his style to analyse his creative process – preferring just to get on with it, a narrative revealed itself.
“Once I had 15 to 20 songs, there seemed to be two camps: one, my younger self without responsibility, then looking at this new-found life of a greater sense of responsibility.
“I did it without thinking – I tend to examine afterwards.”
He mentions “a new-found confidence” and “new experience” but says: “You can over-think things a bit too much.”
So what of those questions: has he done enough and has he achieved all he thought?
“Not at all,” he answers.
“With everyone, whether you’re the Queen or whether someone who works in Burger King, there are still a million thing you haven’t done.” Those who find they have achieved it “are probably dying,” he says.
“I’m no exception. There are tons of things I want to do, musically, personally.” His work “all feels part of evolution in a sense”.
He adds: “When I finish something I always feel a sense of satisfaction – I’m very proud of everything I have done -– but I just do it and move on.
“I might think, ‘I could have done that differently’; ‘I’ll do that next time’, but my mind is already on what happens next.”
So no surprise that he already has “little bits bubbling away”, besides the jazz show he presents on BBC Radio 2: “I love it, sharing the music. It’s an extension of what I’ve done all my life”.
And he still has that soul of a jazz man?
“Absolutely,” he says. “Although Momentum is much more bold, take off the skin and the skeleton of the album is still the jazz man.”
Jamie Cullum plays Sage Gateshead on October 18. Visit www.thesagegateshead.org or call 0191 443 4661. His album Momentum is out on Island Records.