Drake Samples 82-Year-Old Cockney Jazz Singer for Smash Hit

An Unexpected Musical Collaboration Grabs the Spotlight.

by Nouman Rasool
Drake Samples 82-Year-Old Cockney Jazz Singer for Smash Hit
© Marcelo Hernandez/GettyImages

Renowned jazz vocalist Norma Winstone received an unexpected email requesting permission to sample her song "The Tunnel." The surprise came not only from the fact that the song was released 46 years ago but also because it was from a band she was no longer a member of.

At 82 years old, Winstone was taken aback, especially when she learned that the artist seeking her approval was none other than the globally acclaimed rapper Drake. In a recent interview on Radio 4's Today program, Winstone shared her initial reaction to her son's revelation about Drake's fame.

She admitted, "I don't really listen to rap because I can't always understand what they're saying, and it's very important to me [that] words should be understood." Prior to this encounter, she had no knowledge of the Canadian artist's work.

Drake's Cosmic Jazz Sample

Drake sampled "The Tunnel" from the 1977 self-titled album by jazz trio Azimuth for his single "IDGAF," which is part of his latest album, "For All the Dogs." The track has garnered over 120 million streams on Spotify and features a captivating intro composed of bloopy synths, melodious piano by Winstone's then-husband, John Taylor, ethereal trumpet by Kenny Wheeler, and Winstone's enchanting voice narrating a cosmic journey through space.

Norma Winstone's journey from her working-class upbringing in Bow, East London, to her current residence in Deal, Kent, has been marked by her deep passion for music. Her parents' dedication to music enabled her to take piano lessons, and her introduction to the London jazz scene came through a colleague who heard her singing in the office.

Reflecting on "The Tunnel," Winstone recalled the improvisational nature of its creation and the lyrical inspiration she derived from the accompanying instrumentation. Over her illustrious career spanning more than 50 years, Winstone has contributed to approximately 34 studio and live albums, making it a mystery as to how Drake stumbled upon "The Tunnel." In a separate interview with The Guardian, Winstone mentioned her acquaintance with British producer Sam Shepherd, known as Floating Points, through her son, Leo, who is a drummer for the electronic band Hot Chip.

Shepherd had once mentioned his fondness for the obscure album "Kenny Wheeler's Music for Large and Small Ensembles," to which Leo responded, "My mom and dad are on that." Although not a devoted fan of Drake's music, Winstone appreciates the sentiment behind "IDGAF," which aligns with the unconventional approach she and her bandmates took when creating their music.

She remarked, "It's strange because he's protesting. I thought, well, actually that's how we felt when we recorded our music because it was hardly what people were waiting for at the time. I don't think they were really ready for it." Winstone expressed gratitude that Drake preserved the essence of the original sample in his track, saying, "All I can say is I'm grateful to Drake for bringing us to the attention of a wider public. What they're going to make of it... I don't know!"