When asked about the origins of his trademark sound, vocalist Al Jarreau explains, “It involves my entire life and a heart and an ear that are open to music and absorbing things in a sponge fashion.”
The seven-time Grammy Award winner is coming to North and East Texas for two performances. On Friday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 p.m., Jarreau will be at the S.E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and Performance Center on the campus of LeTourneau University in Longview. On Saturday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m., he’ll be at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. A third show is set for Sunday, Jan. 16, at the Riverbend Centre in Austin.
Jarreau has been nominated 12 times for a Grammy, winning the coveted statue in 1978 and 1979 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance (“Look to the Rainbow” and “All Fly Home”), in 1981 for Best Album for Children (“In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record”), in 1982 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Jazz Vocal Performance (“Breakin’ Away” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk”), in 1993 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (“Heaven and Earth”) and in 2007 for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance (“God Bless the Child” with George Benson and Jill Scott).
He wrote the title track to the 1987 TV series, “Moonlighting,” which reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts and was also nominated for a Grammy. He is one of the featured artists on USA for Africa’s “We Are the World.” In 2001, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He appeared with “American Idol” finalist Paris Bennett during the finale of season five. Jarreau’s most recent release is “Double Face” which is featured on the new Eumir Deodato album, “The Crossing.”
Jarreau, who is married and has one son, Ryan, believes the variety of music he heard growing up in Milwaukee, Wis., gave shape to his long and varied music career.
“I grew up 13 feet from a polka tavern,” he explained during an interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I was sitting on the piano bench next to my mother in church while she accompanied the choir or Sister Edna Bass.”
As a young man, Jarreau sang in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church where his father was a minister and on street corners in a quartet. He watched the ascent of Chuck Berry, Elvis and Little Richard.
“I’ve been a serious listener,” Jarreau explained. “All that’s part of my musical memories. I draw on it and use it on stage.”
During his career, Jarreau has not been afraid to cross lines and genres.
“I can be a jazz singer, a pop singer and an R&B singer on stage – or within 45 minutes on a CD,” said Jarreau. “I think I have the good sense not to sing Luicano Pavarotti and I don’t want to sing Edith Piaf. But they’re in my repertoire.”
Since he started singing professionally in the late 1960s, Jarreau’s had the opportunity to work with many of music’s most revered artists. He’s toured with Joe Sample, opera star Kathleen Battle, David Sanborn, Jill Scott, Earl Klugh, George Benson and jazz legend Miles Davis.
“Miles has been a hero of mine forever and ever and ever,” Jarreau said. “Since I first started to do things that were kinda jazzy, Miles has been there.”
Davis played the trumpet, but that doesn’t stop Jarreau from explaining Davis’ magic by referencing his ability to “sing.”
“Miles is the best singer in the world,” Jarreau said, stopping to let that statement sink in. “You can hear lyrics in his playing. That’s a rare, special kind of place to get to as a musician – to play in such a way that so much feeling is emitted that the listener can hear the lyric in the song. He could play phrases that made me know that he knows what the lyric is. In ‘My Funny Valentine,’ he plays a little phrase that has a twist of knowingness.”
Parterning with jazz artist Jill Scott was rewarding for Jarreau. Their duet of “God Bless the Child” won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance in 2007. As with all things Jarreau, there is a twist to the story.
“We had her set to do another song,” Jarreau explained with a laugh. “She asked, ‘Can I do something else?’”
Although Scott had never performed “God Bless the Child,” she wanted to try doing it with Jarreau.
“George Benson, Marcus Miller and I sat for a minute. I said, ‘OK. Here’s the bass line feeling,’” he said as he launched into a percussive rhythm, illustrating the tempo he thought they should use. “She tore it up.”
When it comes to his own band, a sextet, Jarreau is indeed blessed.
“Some guys have been making music with me for as much as 25 years,” he explained. “There are a couple of guys from Houston who have been with me for 12 years. For a guy like me to have a band that really knows him, I think, is very important, because we are not playing notes on a page. We are playing how we feel. We like to bring something fresh and absolutely brand new, thought up on the spot for the audience.”
Although he was rushed to a hospital for “rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath” this summer while in the mountains of France, he has his groove back and is touring regularly again.
Jarreau enjoys being “in the zone” for his performances.
“It’s like time ceases to exist in a way that you typically know it,” he explained. “It becomes another kind of dimension which is full of time and feeling and travel. That’s what you’re shooting for. That’s the gold. That’s the ring. That’s why I do what I do.”
Connecting with his audience with something new each night is critical to Jarreau.
“I appreciate the opportunity to reach out and touch the audience. I really think that sort of communication [with them] is a big part of the reason why my career has been a really long and healthy one,” he said. “It’s a blessing. That word is overused, but it’s a moment of thanksgiving, and I say that on stage. God is there on my stage.”
Here's a clip of Jarreau performing "Mornin'."
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