He had style: from his cool sense of dress to his one-of-a-kind vocalize…
It in with much sadness that I learned of the passing of the great Al Jarreau on February 12 after a recent hospilization in Los Angeles at the age of 76. My first interview (for Britain’s Blues & Soul magazine) with Al took place around October 1975 and I remember vividly that he and then-manager Patrick Rains came to my Hollywood apartment on North Formosa to conduct it, one of the handful of times when I played host to artists in my own abode. He was mild-mannered, aimiable and a little nervous as he shared about his life and the musical journey that had led him to a major recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. Al’s scintillating debut set – “We Got By” – had already become one of my personal favourites of the year and he had become the ‘talk of the town,’ with critics marvelling at his distinctive vocal dexterity.
I became a firm supporter and a few months later, we did our second interview (reprinted below) on the eve of his first European tour; over the years, Al created a solid and loyal audience among UK audiences in particular who loved his unique approach to singing, his innovative jazz-veered artistry and his genial personality – so much so that he recorded an entire album live in London in November 1984. He inspired other artists with his interpetative skills, prompting illustrious singer/songwriter Brenda Russell to express her own feelings about his prodigious musicality in 1983:
Over the years, we did a number of interviews and I witnessed him onstage, transforming classic tunes and his own original material into musical works of art, none more thrilling than attending the live studio sessions for his brilliant 1994 LP, “Tenderness.” In person, Al was cool, funny and a great conversationalist with a deep passion for his art and for music, as well as an acute awareness for whatever was happening in the world. Our personal chats were illuminating and richly rewarding. A seven-time Grammy awardee, Al’s prodigious talent was forever unique and his self-expression as an artist, rare, sensitive and soulful. His magic with a song will be truly missed along with his gift to the world. RIP, Mr. Jarreau, your contribution to life and art lives on.
APRIL 1976 INTERVIEW – AL JARREAU with DAVID NATHAN
“IT SEEMS like but a short time since we last spoke to a talented gentleman who has been hailed by many of his peers and people in the know in the music industry as one of the brightest and most exciting discoveries of the seventies. His name is Al Jarreau and his debut Reprise album, “We Got By” caused something of a sensation when it was released late last year. Since then, Al has picked up a strong following wherever he’s performed and his every appearance has brought further accolades and compliments. Right now, he’s getting ready to conquer Europe with his very unique style and on the eve of his departure, we got the chance to rap with the genial gent.
“Since we talked last, I guess I’ve mostly been involved in performing and getting our second album ready,” Al commented. “I seem to have spent a good deal of time on the East Coast — places like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. have been very good for us — the response has been pleasantly surprising. Yes, I feel that the momentum is picking up slowly and we’re getting over to the cities and markets that are really important when you’re trying to establish yourself.” Al’s acceptance in the East has prompted him to seriously consider the idea of getting an apartment in New York for a few months. “It’s much easier to operate from New York because the cost of running back and forth to the West Coast — where I live — is, frankly prohibitive. But nevertheless, I still dig living in L.A. — the living is nicer and there’s clonazepam to buy more space. “But I would have to also say that living in New York can add to your creativity — there’s a certain tension that keeps you on the go.”
Al has been the recipient of strong critical acclaim in recent months and he confesses that “I feel as if I’m just coming out of the blocks. In all truth, of course, I haven’t just started out but what I am doing is going out there constantly in front of brand new audiences so every night is a challenge. Particularly as most people haven’t even heard of me!” People may not have heard his name but by the time Al finishes mesmerising everyone with his special style, they certainly remember who he is. “It’s like with the first album. I’ve almost forgotten that it happened and it seems so far back in the past so it’s surprising to hear people still talk about it. It’s almost like a delayed reaction, you could say.”
Much of Mr. Jarreau’s energy of late has been concentrated into his second album and in some ways, it will differ from the first. “I guess we learnt a lot from the first album — oftentimes, you can get caught up so much into your own little world that you become unaware of what’s going on outside. Maybe it was a mistake for us to put the album out there with completely new material, presenting a new artist, and a new style all at the same time. So, for this album, we’re gonna do a couple of other people’s songs although the balance of the material will be my own.
“We’ve done Elton John’s “Your Song” and we did a whole number on Sly Stone’s “Somebody’s Watching You” — I guess you could say we’ve given it an ass-kickin’! I’ve also cut an old Oscar Brown Jr. tune, “Hum Drum Blues” but it may not be on the next album. I feel that this album — which is being produced by Al Schmidt (who produced the first one) and Tommy LiPuma — presents a more even texture and mood than the first one.
“My main objective in recording is to work in such a way as to ensure that whatever we do can be easily recreated on stage so this album will probably be a lot less orchestrated — that’s something I learned from the first album.”
Although Al kicked off his recording career with an album, there was no hit single to emerge from it. How much importance does he attach to having a hit? “You bet I really want a hit! It’ll open a lot of doors for me and give me the opportunity to do some other things. I think we may have a hit in one of the tracks we’ve done. It’s called “Hold On” and it’s less than two minutes long and it’s accapella. I have a feeling that it may just jump off the album!”
Al says he’s confidently looking forward to his European trip and it looks likely that he will gain a good measure of acceptance whilst on the Continent. “I feel pretty confident about it all because I feel that I’ve grown by leaps and bounds from just working in the studio again. So far, my performing growth has been somewhat stunted by not having a regular group of musicians to work with — that can definitely be a handicap. Once we can get that situation sorted out, I know things will only continue to get better.”
With the new album — tentatively tabbed “Glow” — ready to re-inforce Al’s acceptance and acclaim both at home and overseas, the future looks particularly bright for this dynamic young performer. If you get the chance, check him out — he really has something different to offer.”
(C) 2011, David Nathan/SoulMusic.com
Listen to AL’s 2011 ‘Voice Your Choice” session with JEFF LOREZ for SoulMusic.com