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 began her career singing jazz standards, she became involved in the avant garde movement, exploring the use of the voice in an experimental way and evolving her own wordless approach to improvisation.
She joined groups led by Mike Westbrook, Michael Garrick and sang with John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Michael 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 Disconforme label.
In the late seventies she joined pianist John Taylor (above) and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (below) 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, and 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 song has now been recorded by other singers including Mark Murphy, and is featured on the latest CD by The Swingle Singers.
Norma appeared at the 1997 Monterey Jazz Festival.
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". Her duo recording with pianist John Taylor "Like song, like weather..." was described by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times as "...a superb example of state-of-the-art, imaginative, virtually beyond-definition singing."
Recent years have found her collaborating with both Scandinavian and Italian musicians in both those countries, and making guest appearances along with Kenny Wheeler on French and Belgian projects to which she also contributed lyrics.
As always, she involves herself in musically interesting and challenging projects whilst continuing her long-standing musical partnerships with Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.
In 2001, she won the title of Best Vocalist at the BBC Jazz Awards hosted by Humphrey Lyttleton and Jools Holland at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
She toured in England with the group '4 In Perspective': pianist Fred Hersch, Kenny Wheeler and percussionist Paul Clarvis. This association led to a duo recording with Fred, "Songs and Lullabyes" (his music and her words) which features Gary Burton guesting on some tracks, and is due for release on the American label "Sunnyside" in March 2003.
Norma toured the US in April 2003 in a work "Leaves of Grass", compositions by Fred Hersch based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, and featuring a lineup of some outstanding American musicians including singer Kurt Elling.
She recorded with Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German saxophonist Klaus Gesing a collection of intriguing and original works which she calls "Poems and Miniatures".
Her most recent recording projects are a recording for ECM with Ralph Towner and a recording with Hamburgs NDR bigband with arrangements by Colin Towns titled “It’s Later than you Think” for Provocateur Records to be released in Germany Spring 2006 and in the UK later that year.