The Soul Seen, I SPY SOUL retrospective revisits the 2003 interview feature with Larry Gold
Audio of the actual interview appears at the end of the feature.
The Midas Touch
The story of arranger, cellist, and composer Larry Gold is one that should serve as an example to many in the music business or for that matter, in any business. Why you ask? Because his success is a result of his sincere love for what he does, a desire to grow, the recognition of talent around him, and of course, his own outstanding ability.
His story is also one of irony because although many of you aren’t familiar with his name, you and scores of others have experienced his “touch.” Gold’s amazing body of work is punctuated by his tenure with the legendary label, Philadelphia International, as first, part of the house band MFSB that propels the treasured classic soul and R&B hits by folks like the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Spinners and Patti Labelle to name only a few. And later, as string and horn arranger on hits from Teddy Pendergrass, McFadden & Whitehead, and more. That experience, while concurrently siphoning the knowledge of Sound of Philadelphia architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and renowned producer, Thom Bell, accounts for the prowess that has since driven both, major acts and emerging artists to engage his services. The list is both impressive and diverse, boasting such artists as Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Jill Scott, Brandy, Jay-Z, Monica, Gerald Levert, The Roots, Kindred, Common, Vivian Green, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Boys II Men, Glen Lewis, Kelly Price, and more. It’s also impressive because it shines with the glow of platinum and yes, gold selling success the records from these artists enjoy.
One of the great joys of writing for I SPY SOUL throughout the years has been the opportunity to meet and interview some very talented musicians and artists — all of which, I have great respect and admiration for, but there are some I hold in even higher regard because they were major influences on me as a young, aspiring musician and artist. One of those artists was the legendary pianist, composer and producer, Joe Sample, who sadly passed in 2014 at the age of 75. Another was also the renowned saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felderwho passed almost exactly a year later at the same age of 75. As founding members, along with drummer, “Stix” Hooper, and trombonist, Wayne Henderson of famed jazz/soul group first known as The Jazz Crusaders and then just The Crusaders, their music was part of a soundtrack for me as a kid that included the likes of Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Weather Report, David Sanborn, Miles Davis, George Benson and others that I listened to over and over again and that undoubtedly shaped my musical palette. I had the great opportunity to interview Sample, Felder and “Stix “ Hooper upon the release of their then new reunion project, Rural Renewal.
They were engaging – Humble yet proud of what they had accomplished in their long and illustrious careers. They were also seemingly hurt and moved with the frustration of an aspiring artist less than half their age or accomplishment at what the music industry had become. But still they were excited about making their brand of music and confident others were too. The profile that appears below was the result and was one of the most viewed and acknowledged pieces the site had enjoyed. At the end are also audio snippets from that interview with Joe Sample and Wilton Felder.
The Soul Seen, I SPY SOUL retrospective revisits the 2002 interview feature with multi – Grammy award winning vocalist, the incomparable, Al Jarreau
“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 . . .” Al Jarreau
Audio excerpts from the actual interview appear at the end of the feature.
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.
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. This 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. BC
Al Jarreau sadly passed away in 2017 at the age of 77 but he left a recorded treasure of his brilliance that will wow and inspire audiences for years to come.
Below are audio exerpts from the Al Jarreau interview: