Yesterday BASCA presented Norma Winstone with a Gold Badge Award in recognition for her outstanding contribution to British Music.

Here, on behalf of BASCA, journalist Mark Sutherland profiles the jazz singer and lyricist:

It was George Gershwin who said that life is a lot like jazz: it’s best when you improvise. And, after a near 50-year career at the forefront of British jazz, singer and lyricist Norma Winstone should know.

After all, she may have started her career singing standards on the swinging ‘60s jazz scene, but it wasn’t long before she started turning her unique vocal talents to more unpredictable use. She became a leading light of the avant-garde movement and was soon in huge demand everywhere, playing with the likes of pianist Mike Westbrook, saxophonist John Surman and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, not to mention all manner of visiting European and American superstars.

She has been a solo star – her 1986 Somewhere Called Home album was hailed as one of the most original jazz albums in years – and also a vital member of groups. Her work in chamber jazz outfit Azimuth alongside Wheeler and pianist John Taylor has echoed down the generations while her current trio Winstone/Gesing/Venier alongside pianist Glauco Venier and saxophonist/bass clarinet player Klaus Gesing has proved a great deal more adventurous than their choice of band name. Her inimitable vocals were also a key component of Kenny Wheeler’s big band before he passed away last year.

Her namesake Ray once famously declared himself “the Daddy”, but Norma commands similar respect from the UK and international jazz scenes. The Los Angeles Times has hailed her “state of the art, imaginative, virtually beyond-definition singing” and, when she won this year’s Parliamentary Jazz Award for Jazz Vocalist Of The Year, no less a star than Dame Cleo Laine was there to present it.

Indeed, today’s Gold Badge Award will not be short of company on her shelves. She’s been steadily picking up gongs since she was voted Top Singer in a 1971 Melody Maker Poll, including Best Vocalist at the 2001 BBC Jazz Awards and was made an MBE in 2007.

And in recent years this mother of reinvention has become a renowned lyricist, writing words for composers such as Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti, Ivan Lins and, particularly, Steve Swallow – their collaboration Ladies In Mercedes has become a modern day classic, a go-to standard for many an aspiring singer in the clubs where Winstone started her own career.

Proof that great lives sometimes turn full circle, even when you’re improvising.

(c) Mark Sutherland 2015