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.



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:

This has been a look back @ the soul seen

Video Interview: Filmmaker Patrick House

It really is fair to say that all artists are storytellers. No matter the medium they are sharing what’s on their minds.  Sharing things they’ve seen or felt; things that have had an impact on them and maybe even you. Sometime those stories are emotionally charged and tragic. And sometimes they’re light-hearted and flat-out funny. Like life itself, sometimes they are all of that.  

When you speak with filmmaker Patrick House you quickly home in on the fact that he’s influenced by those full life stories and interested in telling them with authentic portrayals of the real life cast of characters that play them out. Artists, of course, often spin those stories to create some interesting, clever, thought- provoking, whimsical and, yes, flat-out funny scenarios as well. House’s latest film, Blue Diamonds, is indeed an enjoyable and well executed example of all of that.


The award – winning, Blue Diamonds is a full production, film short currently showing in notable film festivals around the country, garnering rave reviews and critical acclaim. In the entertaining film House, who now calls NYC home, calls upon the tales and characters of growing up in his native Chicago to craft an entwined, two prong plot –  perfectly cast, scripted and enacted – boasting a soulful, retro-vibe a la 70’s Blaxploitation film classics with a cool comedic lean.  Blue Diamonds also comes complete with a felicitous, soul – slathered soundtrack to match – a high priority for filmmaker House – splendidly provided by ace guitarist, producer and an I SPY SOUL featured artist, Marcus Machado.   

We caught up with the talented Patrick House to learn more about the impetus for Blue Diamonds, the influence of his Emmy-winning dad, his approach to making films and the portrayal of African- Americans in film. Check out this video interview and all others on the I SPY SOUL Youtube Channel.

Keep an eye out for screenings of Blue Diamonds at a film festival near you. To contact filmmaker Patrick House for further information or interest in the film go to

Video Interview: Vocalist and violinist Rini

Rini weaves newness into the sounds of home

Vocalist, composer and violinist, Harini S Raghavan or Rini as she is now most known, is rini sidean artist unabashedly proud of her heritage and its rich soundtrack. It is the bedrock of her compelling sound. But she’s also discovered that wonderful things can happen when you thirst for, explore, and are open to incorporating new ideas beyond the “tried and true” traditional ones at hand. The gifted artist, born and bred in the Indian city of Chennai, but who now calls NYC home, adroitly weaves Carnatic, the classical music of her home, with western strands of Jazz, Rock, Pop and Electronica to create a vibrant and beautiful musical tapestry. It’s a sound that boast top-notch musicality with moments reminiscent of mid-seventies fusion a la Mahavishnu Orchestra or Jean Luc Ponty –  punctuated by her deftly played violin and adorned by vocals with an angelic tone, delivered with the indigenous, mesmeric lilt of her musical upbringing. Continue reading “Video Interview: Vocalist and violinist Rini”

Video Interview: Shelley Nicole

The provocative, fiery sound and style of singer, songwriter and bassist, Shelley Nicole has through the years become trademark for the talented artist through her own work with band BlaKbüshe and the revered Burnt Sugar Arkestra. She’s bringing it hard as ever on her anticipated new project, I Am American, produced by guitar beast and founding member of legendary rock squad, Living Colour, Vernon Reid

On the doorstep of release in all its spirited, soulful and “no holds barred” glory, Nicole returns to ISPYSOUL for a chat, an overdue follow-up to our first meeting upon the release of her acclaimed debut, She Who Bleeds . . .,  to share the impetus for I Am American, the lure of “Punanny Politixxx” and more in the video above on I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel.

The first single from Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe, Punanny Politixxx is out and available now iTunes and Spotify. Click the links to check it out or purchase

Video Interview: Guitarist Mark Whitfield

Acclaimed guitarist Mark Whitfield was enthusiastically introduced onto the jazz scene in the early nineties as part of a then new wave of “young lions”;  An esteemed, impressive and packed class opting for the more swing based, traditional form of the idiom. The Berklee College of Music grad went on to produced a string of lauded releases while also sharing the stage with revered artists on the regular the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, and Jimmy Smith, solidifying his own renown.

During the course of his career Whitfield has also successfully done his share of genre blurring hooking up with artists like Sting, Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, and John Mayer as well as on ground breaking projects from D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige

But there are some other things Whitfield is understandably most proudest of. Those would be his two sons. Both musical wunderkinds and alumni of their pop’s alma mater. Both ironically, now part of the current class of heralded “young lions” (and lionesses!) shaking up the scene.

With a new segment we call I SPY SOUL On the Spot, we caught up with the busy guitarist just before his gig at the jazz room, Django in NYC for a quick, but insightful chat about the joy of playing with his sons, sound advice from mentor, George Benson, an Italian kid named D’Angelo and more! Check it out above and more on the I SPY SOUL YouTube Channel


Photos: Deneka Peniston