Norma was born in London and first attracted attention in the late 60s when she shared the bill at Ronnie Scott’s 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.
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 70s she joined pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler 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 recent years Norma 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.
She continues in the forefront of British jazz and was nominated again in the 2007 and 2008 BBC Jazz Awards for best vocalist. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2007. In 2009 she was awarded the Skoda Jazz Ahead Award in Bremen for her contribution to European jazz.