The first thing most people know about Dame Cleo Laine is that she has an extraordinary vocal range.
At the height of her fame in the 60s and 70s, Laine’s world was four octaves wide and she loved to travel.
Her flexibility meant she sang jazz, popular and classical music -“ and eventually became the only person nominated for a Grammy in all three categories.
Now in her 70s, her range isn’t quite as extensive, and the question is posed as delicately as possible, does she have to take extra care with her voice these days?
I don’t really, I’m quite amazed at its resilience, Laine says, by phone from England.
The Dame, who insists on being called Cleo, then seems to get the hint.
I think some of the top has gone but I only did the top just to be noticed really. And it worked! Because people did notice the high range from somebody whose natural range is contralto.
So Laine only sang high to show off, and doesn’t like some of her classics.
She’s quite frank, and continues when asked about the joys of performing with her partner, husband and composer John Dankworth.
It’s very true, but we’re not always joined at the hip. I do leave him from time to time and go off by myself, and sometimes for a year at a time -¦ I was away for a year, for instance, when I played the Witch in Into The Woods, Laine says.
The second thing most people know about Cleo Laine is that she’s a jazz singer -“ one of the few easily named by those not au fait with the form.
Her popularising of jazz was once revolutionary, but now newcomers like Norah Jones are picking up where she left off.
Laine couldn’t be happier.
I think they’re wonderful and they’re very necessary, she says.
If you get someone like Norah Jones and Harry Connick Jr and Jamie Cullum, then it’s refreshing, and there’s another one, Diana Krall -“ they’re all out there waving the flag for jazz in some shape or form.
Laine says gay people have always been a part of the jazz world.
The gay musicians that I knew were never looked on with scorn as far as I can remember, she says.
They are very, very open-hearted people. What they’re interested in is whether you can play your instrument.
That’s all they care about. And if a gay man can play his balls off, as it were, they couldn’t care less.
Cleo Laine and John Dankworth perform in concert at the State Theatre on Saturday 19 March. Phone 13 28 49.