am from a place called Newcastle, and there has always been a thriving jazz community in Newcastle. It was hip in the fifties to play Dixieland in Newcastle. I ended up at the age of fifteen, sixteen, playing with guys, beatniks, who had been playing since the fifties. I played standards with guys in their late forties and fifties. I was known as "the kid." I would do anything to play, and rather than learn Led Zeppelin riffs, as people my age were doing on guitar, I was learning how to play jazz standards. I was in a dance band, a mainstream jazz band. It was modern jazz, cabaret.
Led Zeppelin was the megaband then, and it was the kind of music I didn't really like. Being brought up on jazz, I was locked out when I started going around to record companies. I went to every major record company with my songs, and they all said it wasn't commercial enough. That is what really made me feel a rapport with the punk movement. Although the music was a little shallow, the anger and the sense of wanting to revolutionize the music industry was something I felt strongly about. So the Police few that banner for a while. We were energetic, loud, and noisy, and as the punk bands fell by the wayside, for various reasons we stayed and survived. We came through the door and we put our own flag up. Then we became the establishment.
"Roxanne" was an import that broke out of Austin, Texas. We played a little club in Austin, and the stations started playing the record. When success hit, we were in our mid-twenties, with pretty strong personalities. We were egotistical and the whole rocket ship of success amplified everything. In a way it was very positive and it made us a very angry little group. The music was very tight and feisty and that kind of pressure and negativity worked for a while. Then it became debilitating, and that is why I stopped it.
On my own it's been very interesting. Jazz is still important to me. Not as something that is a religion, but I like it. It is not what I do now, even though I play with jazz musicians. I hope the music we make can't be labeled. My whole point about music is that labeling is imitating. It prejudices people. As soon as you introduce a name, a type of music, you introduce a preconception. My whole crusade at the moment is confounding stereotypes. I have records on the chart that shouldn't be there. They aren't formula, they aren't programmable. I have a single called "Englishman in New York," which has a jazz section in it, and then a hip-hop section. The contemporary hit radio format -- they don't like jazz, they don't like hip-hop. It is against their formula. But because it is my record they have to take it seriously. They can reject it or play it, but they have to decide. They can't just throw it away, and I find that interesting.
I actually sang with Gil Evans, at one of his last concerts in Italy. He arranged some of my songs at this big Italian festival, and he became for me a kind of father figure in a way. He was present during my last record, pointing and helping me out, giving me advice. His loss is a big one. He was the youngest seventy-six-year-old man I ever met. I went to see his band one night, and I plucked up enough courage to go backstage and introduce myself. I said, "I am a rock singer called Sting."
And he said, "Yeah, I've heard of you." I couldn't believe it. He said that he like the song, "Walking on the Moon," and the bass line. I was totally blown away. I admired this guy since I was fifteen, and he knew one of my pieces.
I said, "I want you to help me make an album."
He said, "Sure, make me an offer." It didn't happen for another two years, but having made the connection, I then sang with him at Sweet Basil in New York. It was an impromptu thing one night, but we had a relationship.
That's what I mean about not limiting oneself. I have to be myself, and if being in rock music forces me to pretend I am an idiot, or that I have to wear tight trousers, or a wig, then I have to get another job. At the moment I can actually be myself and people will accept it. It is not nerve at all. It just feels very natural. As soon as it feels unnatural, I will get the hell out and do something else."
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