The Soul Seen: Al Jarreau

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find still resonate today.

 

This feature also provides audio excerpts from the actual interview at the end of the of feature.

From the original ISPYSOUL monthly feature, IN FOCUS, 2002

AL JARREAU
SOME OTHER THINGS

For many of us as kids, being drawn to a figure that possesses a special something that we marvel at and stand in awe of is a pivotal part of growing up – Pivotal because for many, those figures influence our goals and tendencies – Shape our likes, dislikes and ignite an ability to see pass the known and seek possibility. If music is your passion the list of revered that fall under that category is relatively short, but oh so sweet. One of the endearing musical role models from my own short list is the extraordinary singer, songwriter, artist, AL JARREAU. So then imagine the extreme anticipation of receiving the call that would put me voice to voice with the one whose remarkable, innovative style marries vocal prowess with dazzlingly unique, improvisational technique adored and recognized the world over. If you’re a hoops fan, its like meeting Dr.J or Jordan. Imagine once more a greeting that creates an air of history between the two of you. A warmness that invites you to pull up a chair and talk old times. Indeed that was the case this day when Jarreau’s blithe tone delivered a pleasant and seemingly personalized, “Hey, how are you?” But then again, we do have a history together. Actually, I and several other millions do. We’ve followed an illustrious twenty-seven year career of treasured recordings that have spawned classics like “We Got By”, “Take Five”, “Look To The Rainbow”, “Roof Garden”, “Blue Rondo A La Turk”, “Since I Fell For You”, “We’re In This Love Together” and countless others. But most of all we’ve enjoyed, observed, and embraced his unique artistry. The kind that has left an unquestionable, lasting impression.

For Jarreau’s efforts he’s reaped gold and platinum sales, five Grammy awards, not only for jazz, but in the R&B and pop categories as well, making him the first artist in music history to achieve this. And then there is his most recent accolade, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not too bad for the one time rehabilitation counselor and Milwaukee native. But during our conversation filled with fond recollection and insightful observations of the music industry, it’s made quite clear he’s not now and has never been in it for the fame or the fortune. Left up to him, the joy he’s brought to scores of faithful fans and received by doing so would look just as good in the trophy case and hanging on the walls. “I love that my music has touched you and so many others the way it has”, says Jarreau. “That is my goal.” Frankly, this doesn’t come as a surprise, but more like an affirmation proven by his drive to continue performing and creating. Case in point, Jarreau’s latest release, ALL I GOT. imageThis newest addition to the Jarreau collection establishes that his recipe for musical magic still grabs blue-ribbon status, boasting a trademark blend of musical genres, tight grooves, memorable melodies, lyrical splendor and of course, the main ingredient that is his expressive, emotive, and ingenious vocal style. Another staple of the Al Jarreau sound in attendance here is his adroitly incorporating nuances of what’s current without taking him out of his trademark game. Cuts like “Random Act of Love”, “Life Is” and title track, “All I Got”, provide plenty of fresh, hip-swerving bounce while the smooth, “Secrets of Love”, lights a timeless glow of romance. It’s yet another example that not only speaks to the artist he is, but to the artist he always wants to be. “That’s a very important thing for me to achieve” says Jarreau. “It is an element, a desire, a watermark to reach for that (virtually) everybody wants to do. All of them (artists) are trying to be who they are, whether that began in 1980 or 1950 – still be contemporary in what they’re doing and to stay relevant to the new generation and not become passé. That’s what I’m trying so very hard to do without turning myself into Busta Rhymes. That don’t work for me. I can’t be a hip-hop artist. I don’t want to be a hip-hop artist. Its just not me culturally.”

It is that steadfast stance of Jarreau’s to produce gems that are all at once, contemporary, complete, and engaging topped with the presence of his very distinctive, stylistic approach that has influenced many aspiring vocalists over the years. While admitting my own one time quest for recording artist stardom, I also fessed up, at the risk of appearing to be an obsessive loon, to learning his songs, word for word, note for note and inflection for inflection. The potential embarrassment would however be thankfully dissolved when Jarreau jumps in with an enthusiastic, “But you know, that’s how we learn. That’s how we all learn!” He then goes on to illustrate fondly how this relates to his own development as an artist. “If the teachers are broad enough then you find a guy who learned note for note and phrase for phrase the music of Johnny Mathis and the music of Jon Hendricks. And then a guy who sat down and listened to James Brown’s music, Sly Stone’s music, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and all the Motown music. And all of that stuff came together with Broadway music. I could sing you most of Oklahoma (the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical) any time you want me to or South Pacific (another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical). I sang that music on stage as a kid in High school. And that stuff just kind of mixes with each other along with religious music you learned as a kid. And out comes this different brand of music with my thumbprint on it.” Needless to say, a thumbprint that has been widely enjoyed through the years and yet still with attempts at assigning a category stamp. Considering the depth and variety of his influences as well as the success he’s had across the music genre board, it’s quite clear why pundits have wrestled with this one. But for Jarreau himself, when posed with the question of whether he considers himself a jazz singer, which is where most place him, a pause of noticeable deliberation delivers a surprisingly simple and greatly modest, “I would be more inclined to say that Al sings some jazz songs.” He continues to elaborate on his description this way, “Because in respect to people certainly like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Jon Hendricks or now a Diane Reeves or Diana Krall, they are jazz singers. I am not and that’s cool, for me – Because I am not that. I am some other things! I’m a Pop singer and a R&B singer.” Quite a revelation from one who has been referred to as “among the foremost jazz and scat singers of his generation.” There is a category that Al Jarreau belongs to for sure and that is of transcendent artist. He has been, seemingly from the start, on a long excursion of creative brilliance allowing all who wish to hop on the vehicle that is his stunning body of unforgettable recordings and performances that now grows by one with the release of, All I Got. At the close of our dream-fulfilling conversation, the 62-year old Jarreau reveals much excitement for the new record and no signs of slowing down while talking about what still remains as his key motivation. “The motivating thing in the career is to offer something that has lasting value – That you can listen to in the year 2020 and the music still says something to you – You can go back to it, put it on and say I want to hear that phrase again, what did he say?” He then, without missing a beat, pulls a line from his 1983 hit, “Morning”, from the self-titled, Jarreau album. “I know I can, like any man, reach out my hand, and touch the face of God!” He then plays a captivated listener. “What did he say? Let me hear that again! He said that, didn’t he? Where did he get the nerve to say something like that!? Wow! That’s all right!” And finishes with an impassioned and sincere, “That’s what I want to do. That’s the mark I want to leave.” Al, you are indeed a man of your word.

Bert Caldwell

COPYRIGHT ISPYSOUL 2015  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Below are audio exerpts from the Al Jarreau interview:

and now,

Since our interview the now 75-year old Jarreau has continued to keep a hefty touring schedule, performing not only his legendary, chart-topping hits with a stellar band, but also sharing his iconic voice and style with symphony orchestras from around the country as part of his acclaimed symphonic program, to enthusiastic, long time fans. And with quick wit and a seemingly ever-exuberant vibe, Jarreau in performance still masterfully displays vocal artistry like few others. He has also continued to release successful projects that have topped the charts, his most recent, a musical tribute to the renowned singer, songwriter, producer and keyboard wiz, George Duke fittingly called My Old Friend:Celebrating George Duke.image Jarreau joined by a stellar cast of themselves revered musicians and vocalists, pays homage to the influential musician and long time friend whose jazz trio he moonlighted with while still a rehabilation counselor during the early 1960’s in San Francisco. An experience that helped solidify his decision to pursue music as a career. Below is a quick peak at the making of that project courtesy of Concord Records.

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