September 15, 2015

R&B and Pop and Some Jazz too

by Jim Newsom

Al Jarreau is coming to Chrysler Hall on Sunday, September 20th, for a double bill with Jeffrey Osborne. His music is timeless and unique.

“I want to agree with you and hope you are right,” he said when we spoke last month. “I really do get applause and recognition that tells me that it translates across the years, which was part of the purpose in everything I write and everything I sing.

“They still sound fresh to me. It’s not just flash in the pan music. Somebody took some time to carve out a melody against the chord changes in the way that makes it appealing. So it continues to be fresh. You get people on the gig who are really spontaneous and jazzy in their approach to the music, and it changes the music in the moment.”

His hitmaking heyday was the early 1980s, with popular songs like “We’re In This Love Together,” “Mornin’” and “Boogie Down.” But he’s been a one of a kind, genre bending icon in a category of his own for over forty years. Who was he trying to emulate when he started out?

“Certainly Nat Cole was one of them really early in my singing experience. The other great influences were Jon Hendrix and Johnny Mathis and Nancy Wilson. These are people who, at various moments on stage, I was trying to sound like. But what happens—we all begin that way but we find our own voice if we have enough time to evolve and let ourselves shine through and become, to turn into that person that is like your thumb print.

“Johnny was an extension of Nat with a little different timbre in the voice. He sang higher but sang the same type of sweet ballads. Jon Hendrix was a fiery jazzer; I wanted to do that.”

In fact, it’s that jazzy side that first brought attention to Al Jarreau and that continues to feed and nurture his music. The double album live set Look to the Rainbow was his breakthrough in 1977, winning him his first Grammy award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. (He’s won in six different categories.)

“We still talk about that record a lot,” he said. “Those moments where the freshness of a guy who was a singer taking a jazzy attitude was really kind of new and fresh and experimental and had a big impact.

“People found other jazzers through my doing ‘Take Five’ and ‘Spain’ that reminded people there were others before me that they might want to find and check out. When I did the Weather Report song, a lot of people went and found those other artists when I sang something that they did. It made it accessible.

“While we’re talking about that, let’s just go and venture down that road for a bit. I had an amazing experience dong the lyric for ‘A Remark You Made’ with Joe Zawinul. We had run into each other over the years with a kind of appreciation. I’m approaching the song with reverence, trying to find a meaning that made sense of that song. I sent the lyric to him, and his reply was ‘the song is complete as it is.’ So you gotta be really careful. But I think I managed to do it in such a way that there weren’t any great shouts of disapproval and I do think I’ve brought some people to these songs that might not have, if they weren’t listening to a singer who is R&B and pop and sings some jazz too.”

Choosing a setlist from his lengthy discography must be a challenge.

“You touch on all the eras,” he said, “and do a show that’s packed with things that people know, then you take them in a different direction with something that they haven’t heard you do. That’s how I set up the program. That’s our commandment: Give them the songs that they love and sing along to. That whole phenomenon of people joining in and being part of the music making in that moment and singing along is a very special moment between the folks in the audience and the folks on the stage. It feels like church.”

A conversation with Al Jarreau reveals him to be just as upbeat and joyous as his music, full of laughter and eager to share. At 75 years old, he has a lifetime of memories but is still on his game and plugged in:

“I was there when Elvis was wearing blue suede shoes and moving that pelvis. Right next to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. That stuff is in my heart. How do you walk away from that if you have a real sense of the impact of music? Somehow it’s in there, and if you give it space and room it’ll come out and have an effect on what you do.

“Music is changing and doesn’t have the same place in people’s lives as it used to. They listen to your music with earbuds. That’s no way to listen to music! Things are changing. It takes a big love to do this. Digital has eaten royalties. You’ve got to do the music ‘cause you love it.”

Al Jarreau and Jeffrey Osborne
Chrysler Hall

September 20 – 7:30 pm
Tickets: $48.00-73.00

copyright © 2015 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.


Accompaniment D’Amour
PortFolio Weekly
February 19, 2008
A review of Al Jarreau’s Love Songs.

"Style and Substance"
October 12, 2004
A review of Al Jarreau's Accentuate the Positive.