Since the release of his debut album three years ago, Al Jarreau has firmly established himself as a creative talent of the first order. He reflects on his career to date and some of his thoughts for the future….
"AT the outset, my major goal was to just record, stay alive as a recording artist by generating sales and generally performing, continuing to polish my craft. I've always seen myself that way — as a journeyman, a craftsman."
Al's just arrived from Boston ("a really beautiful town") one day prior to playing at New York's Palladium with Grover Washington Jr. and, as always, he's warm, outgoing and friendly. If Grammies were given on the strength of artists' personalities alone, Mr. Jarreau would have walked off with several by now!
As it is, he's captured a couple of those prized awards in Germany, where he is indeed a star of major proportions. And Al comments that the recognition he received in that country really indicated to him that his career was on the up and up.
"That came not too long after the first album ('We Got By') and it was a real shock because I didn't anticipate that kind of recognition. I was hoping that my musical peers would dig what I was all about but nothing like a Grammy! And since then, things have just kept going!"
Having gained a degree of international recognition, Al is still seeking the same level of acceptance at home and he confesses: "I have mixed feelings about it. Things are beginning to level off — in other words, the acceptance seems to be coming, "but obviously, we haven't reached quite that level yet.
"But I've given it a great deal of thought and you know, I don't know if I necessarily want the kind of popular stardom that can affect people adversely. Unless you know how to really handle it, it can change your music, you as a person and you can even forget the real reason you're out there in the first place."
Al maintains that "my goal hasn't changed and I'm aware of the need to preserve my own artistry. The demands of a career mean that sometimes there's a risk of losing some of your creativity but if you're aware of that, it won't cause a problem. Take someone like George Benson — I believe he's managed to really do that successfully."
Al agrees that "if that kind of success comes, I'll be ready for it" further commenting that "a hit record is important and would be nice! But to me, it's just as important to make good music. The way I look at it is that if you stay around long enough, a hit record is an inevitability. The way things are looking, we may even have one on this new album."
The album, "All Fly Home" is produced by Al Schmidt (instead of Tommy LiPuma, who is no longer associated with Warner Bros., Al's record label) who engineered and co-produced all of Mr. Jarreau's albums to date.
"This whole album is different," the gentleman states. "There was a greater involvement, more input on the part of myself and the musicians and a different approach as far as studio concepts went. We were trying to achieve something different and I think we succeeded. Even in the material, you'll find that the influence of the youthful contemporary market has been felt.
"It's taken us four albums to get there but we feel that we may now have an album that will reach a whole new audience — those people who listen to AM radio. Up until now, they've said that there was nothing there that they could really play — but we've got some things in there for them this time."
Al says that there was "no great rush — we took our time to get the album right and all ways round, I think we came out with a good product. We've included some other people's material again and although I've heard people ask why we don't go back to the format of the first album where I did all my own original material, I feel that what we're doing now is best for the moment until I become even broader as a writer myself. I find there are a lot of people who are saying things musically that I can deal with so why not?"
He notes that as far as his own songwriting efforts are concerned, "I don't have the same time I used to — I can't be as casual as I was before but I haven't let the movement of my career affect the time I have to observe what's happening around me, because that's what writing is all about — reflecting. But, of course, it's a little more limited now — the time I have to do it.
"I'm the kind of person who likes to work when I feel the inspiration instead of when I have to. Now it's about meeting certain commitments and it's difficult trying to work on material when you're on the road."
Al still spends quite a considerable amount of time out performing but "it's not as rigid as it was. As time has gone by, I've been able to pace my work better — instead of working non-stop. But you know, I really enjoy the road. I can't understand those artists who complain about it because that's what it's all about — at least, that's a major proportion of what it's about.
"And I've always loved the energy, the physicalness you get from performing — I've felt that way since back in 1967 when I stopped just being with that formal jazz trio kind of set up. In fact, now more than ever, there's a lot of energy there, a lot of drama on stage, intensity." Anyone who's witnessed one of Mr. Jarreau's spellbinding shows will attest to that.
Generally, he says "the road is great. The only thing you really have to watch is physical fatigue. As long as you can keep that in check, make sure you get the right kind of rest, it's fine.
"Yes, I like the travelling, seeing different places, the excitement of activity. of course, I also like being at home — not having to get up at 10.00 to get to the airport and catch a plane and rush to soundcheck, stuff like that — but after I've been home for a certain amount of time without rehearsing or being in the studio or just doing things musically, I get very bored, maybe restless is more like it! I like the diversity of my lifestyle, I like new adventures, new experiences — so the road is fine for me!"
Al's expanding his international horizons even further with trips to Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii and Brazil "and I'm truly looking forward to all of that. I'm taking a deep breath beforehand so that I can see as much as possible during the trip."
On his return, he continues with working across the States noting "this year hasn't been quite as hectic as last but we anticipate more work in the second half of the year than the first."
With the kind of demand that Al's distinctive and highly imaginative vocal talent creates, he can certainly continue to anticipate a lot more work in the future. It's only a matter of time before audiences throughout the U.S.A. finally catch up with this exciting and creative young man and when they do, they're in for a bit treat!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.