Norma Winstone

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Norma Winstone
Winstone in 2007
Winstone in 2007
Background information
Birth nameNorma Ann Short
Born (1941-09-23) 23 September 1941 (age 82)
Bow, East London, England
Occupation(s)Singer and lyricist
Years active1960s–present
Aarhus (Denmark 2022)
Photo Hreinn Gudlaugsson

Norma Ann Winstone MBE (born 23 September 1941)[1] is an English jazz singer and lyricist. With a career spanning more than 50 years, she is best known for her wordless improvisations. Musicians with whom she has worked include Michael Garrick, John Surman, Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook, as well as pianist John Taylor, who was her former husband.


Early years and education[edit]

Born as Norma Ann Short in Bow, East London, England, she was 10 years old when her family moved to Dagenham, Essex.[2] Encouraged by her primary school teacher, she applied for and won a scholarship to attend Saturday-school at Trinity Music College, and after passing her 11-plus exams, she went to Dagenham County High School (where Dudley Moore was then a senior pupil).[2] Like Moore, her music teacher there was Peter Cork (1926–2012).[3] At the age of 17, she discovered jazz, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson being played on Radio Luxembourg.[4]


Winstone began singing in bands around Dagenham in the early 1960s, and has said of her early experiences: "I've always been on the edge, always felt like I was swimming against the tide and somehow couldn't stop. I met a pianist called Chris Goody and we'd get together and play things. He knew Margaret Busby who was in a publishing company called Alison and Busby. She also wrote lyrics for tunes like 'Naima'. I was inspired by her, though I didn't write words myself at that time, I didn't think I could."[4]

Winstone first attracted attention when in the late 1960s she appeared at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club sharing the bill with Roland Kirk.[4] Interviewed in 2020, she said: "I went along to a gig at the Charlie Chester Club and I sat in with a drummer called John Stevens and he was incredibly enthusiastic and jumped up and said, 'I'm going to tell Ronnie Scott about you, he should give you an audition!' ... Eventually, I went to the club, and after reminding Ronnie that eight months before he promised to invite me for an audition, we got it and he gave me four weeks there opposite Roland Kirk. I think I was on cloud nine...." This led to her first radio BBC broadcast, which by chance was heard by singer Carmen McRae on a visit from the US, who met Winstone and was interviewed for a jazz magazine with her.[4]

Winstone joined Michael Garrick's band in 1968. Her first recording came the following year, with Joe Harriott and Amancio D'Silva, on Hum-Dono (reissued in 2015).[5] In 1971, she was voted top singer in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll, and she recorded the album Edge of Time, the first under her own name, in 1972.[6] Interviewed in 2023, she recalled: "I decided that I would include as many of my friends as possible! So the tracks went from trio to 10 piece groups. There was no real musical concept behind it; just the opportunity to record in different settings. I guess it was a very unusual recording for the time and gave me the opportunity to explore different settings. Also it gave me the chance to get some arrangements by John Taylor, John Surman and John Warren."[7]

Winstone contributed vocals to Ian Carr's Nucleus on that band's 1973 release Labyrinth, a jazz-rock concept album based on the Greek myth about the Minotaur.[7]

Winstone has worked with many major European musicians and visiting Americans, as well as with most of her peers in British jazz, including Garrick, John Surman, Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook and her former husband, the pianist John Taylor. With Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler she performed and recorded three albums for ECM as a member of the trio Azimuth between 1977 and 1980; their fifth and last album How It Was Then… Never Again (1995) was given four stars by DownBeat magazine.[8]

Her own 1987 album Somewhere Called Home, also released on the ECM label, has often been called "a classic".[9][10][11] The review by AllMusic said: "It's not only a watermark of Winstone's career but, in the long line of modern vocal outings released since the romantic vocal tradition of Fitzgerald and Vaughan ended with free jazz and fusion, the disc stands out as one most original yet idyllic of vocal jazz recordings. ... A must for fans looking for something as cozy as a golden age chanteuse, but without all the gymnastic scatting and carbon copy ways of many a contemporary jazz singer."[12]

In addition, she made albums with the American pianists Jimmy RowlesWell Kept Secret, recorded in 1993 – and Fred Hersch. On Well Kept Secret Winstone sang lyrics she had written to Rowles' composition "The Peacocks", which she had heard on the Bill Evans album You Must Believe in Spring (1981).[13] With the title "A Timeless Place", Winstone's lyrics were subsequently recorded by others, including Mark Murphy.[14] Well respected as a lyricist, she has also written words to tunes by Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti, Ivan Lins, Steve Swallow, and other musicians.[15][16][17][18] Her vocal style includes singing lyric-less passages, about which she has said: "I feel that there are some pieces that do not benefit from adding lyrics.... Adding words tells the listener what the piece is about, and sometimes it's good to leave interpretation of a piece to the listeners to make what they like of it. I have always heard the voice as an instrument, the most personal instrument, which has the added dimension of being able to deliver a lyric."[19]

In 2001, Winstone was honoured as "Best Vocalist" in the BBC Jazz Awards, also being nominated in 2007 and 2008.[20][21]

In February 2018, Winstone released Descansado: Songs for Films, a collection that AllMusic described as "an unusual and provocative album".[22]

In 2019, Enodoc Records released the CD In Concert, a remastered recording of an August 1988 performance by Winstone and her ex-husband John Taylor at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, including music by Leonard Bernstein, Steve Swallow, Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner and Dave Brubeck, among others, with lyrics by Winstone herself, Johnny Mercer and Margaret Busby.[23][24] Awarding four stars to this collaboration between Winstone and Taylor, Roger Farbey of All About Jazz wrote: "What In Concert demonstrates above all else is the extraordinarily synergistic relationship that this virtuosic pair shared."[25]

In 2023, Winstone's vocal from Azimuth's 1977 album track "The Tunnel" was sampled by rapper Drake in his song "IDGAF" on his album For All The Dogs.[26][27]

Personal life[edit]

In 1972, Winstone married pianist John Taylor,[28] whom she had met in 1966; they divorced after some years, although they later continued their musical partnership.[17] Their two sons, Alex and Leo, are both musicians.[28][29]

Awards and honours[edit]


As leader[edit]

  • Edge of Time (Argo, 1972)
  • Live at Roncella Jonica, with Kenny Wheeler (Izemz/Polis, 1985)
  • Somewhere Called Home (ECM, 1987)
  • M.A.P., with John Wolfe Brennan (L+R, 1990)
  • Far to Go (Grappa, 1993)
  • Well Kept Secret (Hot House, 1995)
  • Siren's Song, with Kenny Wheeler (Justin Time, 1997)
  • Manhattan in the Rain (Sunnyside, 1998)
  • Like Song, Like Weather, with John Taylor (Koch, 1999)
  • Songs & Lullabies, with Fred Hersch (Sunnyside, 2003)
  • Chamber Music (EmArcy, 2003)
  • It's Later Than You Think with the NDR Big Band (Provocateur, 2006)
  • Children of Time, with Michael Garrick (Jazz Academy, 2006)
  • Amoroso... ..Only More So, with Stan Tracey (Trio, 2007)
  • Distances (ECM, 2008)
  • Yet Another Spring, with Michael Garrick (Jazz Academy, 2009)
  • Stories Yet to Tell (ECM, 2010)
  • Mirrors with Kenny Wheeler (Edition, 2013)
  • Dance Without Answer (ECM, 2014)
  • Descansado: Songs for Films (ECM, 2018)
  • In Concert, with John Taylor, 1988 (Enodoc Records, 2019)

With Azimuth

As guest[edit]

With Neil Ardley

  • Harmony of the Spheres (Decca, 1979)

With Joe Harriott and Amancio D'Silva

  • Hum-Dono (Columbia UK, 1969)

With Nucleus

With Paul Rutherford and Iskra 1912

With Eberhard Weber

With Kenny Wheeler


  1. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 2714/5. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b Odeen-Isbister, Sara (5 October 2012), "Jazz star Norma Winstone on growing up in Dagenham", Barking and Dagenham Post.
  3. ^ Plowright, Piers (30 October 2012). Peter Cork obituary in The Independent.
  4. ^ a b c d Vera, Paola (15 July 2020). "Norma Winstone, a true British legend". Jazz in Europe. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  5. ^ Heining, Duncan (26 January 2015). "Joe Harriott-Amancio D'Silva Quartet: Hum Dono". AllAboutJazz. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  6. ^ Lock, Graham (1994). Chasing the Vibration. Devon: Stride Publications. pp. 77–81. ISBN 1-873012-81-0.
  7. ^ a b "Norma Winstone | Interview | 'I think the only way to learn is to be obsessed'". 1 March 2023. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  8. ^ "Norma Winstone",
  9. ^ Anglesey, Melanie (27 May 2009). "Norma Winstone headlines jazz concert in Chipperfield".
  10. ^ "Norma Winstone - EFG London Jazz Festival". Mezzo. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  11. ^ "Norma Winstone at Dean Clough, September 15th". Northern Jazz News. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  12. ^ "AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook".
  13. ^ Loudon, Christopher (26 April 2019). "Overdue Ovation: Vocalist Norma Winstone". JazzTimes. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  14. ^ a b Beckerman, Lou (1 March 2016). "Norma Winstone interview". Sussex Jazz Magazine. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  15. ^ "Norma Winstone". ECM Records. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  16. ^ "Norma Winstone: Britain's Poetic Jazz Singer". Weekend Edition Sunday. NPR. 11 July 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  17. ^ a b "Norma Winstone – Dancing To Her Own Tune". Jazz Views. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  18. ^ "Great voice who found the words". The Glasgow Herald. 6 July 2001.
  19. ^ Andrews, Marke (18 June 2014). "Vocalist says words sometimes get in the way". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  20. ^ "And all that jazz". Kent Life. 5 March 2009.. Updated 20 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Norma's nominated for jazz awards". East London & West Essex Guardian. 7 August 2008.
  22. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Descansado: Songs for Films - Norma Winstone - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  23. ^ Bentley, Alison (12 June 2019). "Norma Winstone & John Taylor – In Concert". London Jazz News. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  24. ^ Bilawsky, Dan, "In Concert Norma Winstone/John Taylor (Enodoc - Sunnyside)", The New York City Jazz Record, July 2020, p. 15.
  25. ^ Farbey, Roger (14 May 2019). "Album Review | Norma Winstone & John Taylor: In Concert". All About Jazz. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  26. ^ "IDGAF" at
  27. ^ Rogers, Jude (14 November 2023). "Interview | 'My son was like: what?! Mum!' Norma Winstone, the British jazz singer being sampled by Drake". The Guardian.
  28. ^ a b Fordham, John (19 July 2015). "John Taylor obituary". The Guardian.
  29. ^ Fordham, John (17 November 2016). "Norma Winstone review – British great skips through an astonishing career". The Guardian.
  30. ^ "Biography". Norma Winstone. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  31. ^ "BBC report on Queen's Birthday Honours" (PDF). BBC News. Retrieved 23 June 2007.
  32. ^ "Honours". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  33. ^ Chilton, Martin, "Norma Winstone is jazz vocalist of the year", The Telegraph, 11 March 2015.
  34. ^ "2015 Gold Badge Award Recipients Revealed", M Magazine, 16 September 2015.

External links[edit]