Al Jarreau: Christmas Time At Last
Jarreau used musicians that have been with for the last decade or so, including Williams and multi-instrumentalist Joe Turano, who arranged some of the music. "These people know me. And that was wonderful about approaching the project. They all had things they wanted to do an arrangement of. And I just kind of went: go ahead ... But here are guys that know me and know what I do on stage right now. They know what I record right now. So I took advantage of that opportunity ... That may never happen again. Next time I do a record, maybe it should be Quincy Jones who arranges it. But for now, this is the right Christmas record for the right time. My only disappointment is that I didn't get to do 15 more songs," he says, chuckling.
Jarreau says his tour around in the coming weeks will be spiced with holiday selection, but audiences will still hear familiar hits like "Take Five," "We're in This Love Together," "After All" and "Mornin.'" Like always, the music will be mostly pop and R&B. Jarreau is able to improvise and he changes phrasing of familiar songs. He also scats capably. But even though he's been known in jazz circles since his early days, supported by a trio led by pianist George Duke, and from his early recordings on the Reprise/Warner Bros. label, Jarreau eschews the "jazz singer" label.
"I consider myself just a singer and jazz is part of it. A very important part. Because it weaves itself through the pop and R&B, which is 90 percent of the music. Maybe 97 to 98 percent of the music that I do. I'm not a jazz singer like Ella Fitzgerald or Carmen McRae or Joe Williams or Jon Hendricks. Then what am I like? Well, I'm a pop singer and an R&B singer, but I weave enough jazz in and throughout it, that lot's of people claim that I am," he says with his characteristic sparkle. "I've got three or four jazz Grammys. I'm proud of that. As a form, as a genre, I think it deserves a lot more praise than it's gotten and garnered, so I'm proud of that."
He's also enchanted by the art of improvising.
"Have you ever sat and pondered in your mind is happening there inside this guy's mind and spirit when he knows his instrument well enough to let the moment take him on a wave, and he rides that wave and it just pours out of him, the stuff that he feels at the moment? That is a magic. That's a magic created by god we get to experience that is unlike a lot of things. You can plan a sculpture. ... So much art is planned out. You draw this line and measure that. But this improvisational stuff is a special, spiritual mind-body connection that is some deep stuff, man."
Jarreau has been busy recording in recent years, including his 2006 project Givin' It Up (Concord, 2007), with George Benson, "That's as important as anything I've ever done."
Benson's career has also straddled jazz and pop, but the album is largely a pop offering. Benson had just signed with Concord Records. The guitarist and Jarreau were talking separately with John Burke, an executive at Concord, when the idea of teaming up was suggested. "The only disappointing part for me is that George and I haven't taken the opportunity to tour as much as we really should have," Jarreau says. "It won two Grammys, which isn't the end-all and be-all of everything, but it sure means a certain part of the community, your colleagues and fellows, stood up and went, 'yeah!' ... Otherwise, I think it's a terrific project. We were true to our careers. There are probably some people inR&B music with a toe into jazz. I think it's satisfying for a lot of people to hear."
The singer, raised in Milwaukee, has been satisfying audiences, of one fashion or another, since he can remember.
"I did my first little garden recital when I was four years old," says Jarreau, illustrating by singing 'Smile, smile, smile, just keep right on smiling/Smile, smile, smile, and clouds will pass away. Smile, smile, smile, it's better far than pining/ Smile, smile, smile, You'll never mind the shadows on a sunny day.' ... songs like that. The church people were just delighted with this four-year-old who could sing. And he probably raised a buck-fifty for the church and bought some new hymnals or something."
Exposure to music was unavoidable, as talent was on display throughout the Jarreau family and singing in the house was common. "My dad was a brilliant singer. He played musical saw. Classical pieces. [hums a couple bars of classical music]. My older brothers were great singers too. I heard quartet music rehearsed in my living room as a four- and five-year-old. I'd hear music which was jazzy. That was my first introduction to music beyond church music and my first introduction, really, to jazz. That kind of stuck, as well as the church music stuck."
Growing up, Jarreau listened to the popular music of the day, including the likes of Little Richard, Bill Haley and the Comets, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, a young Frank Sinatra. "I could sing you so much of that music, you'd be bored," he says with glee.