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Al Jarreau: Christmas Time At Last

By Published: December 15, 2008
"San Francisco at that time was the hotbed of the recording industry. Los Angeles existed, but so much great music was coming out of Haight-Ashbury and the nearby neighborhood, which extended into Berkley. There was the Grateful Dead, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Sly Stone, the list goes on and on and all these people were San Francisco groups, so there was reason to go there and hope for a breakthrough as a singer. I worked for four years as a rehab counselor," he says, during which time came another big break: meeting George Duke.

Al Jarreau / George Benson Al Jarreau (l) with George Benson (r)

Duke, says Jarreau, "was a genius at that time, greatly evolved as a pianist at age 21 or 22. And I began to swing! [laughs]. I began to swing. George can swing if he can't do anything else. George can do a lot of other things."

The focus on music became sharper and Jarreau moved to Los Angeles, performing at some of the best clubs there in the late 1960s. He also gained national network television exposure on shows with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, David Frost and Mike Douglas. He played clubs in New York City. In 1975, following an engagement in Los Angeles, Warner Bros./Reprise talent scouts signed him to a recording contract. His debut album for the label, We Got By (Reprise, 1975, was well received, followed up by Glow. His reputation grew fast.

In 1978, Jarreau did his first world tour. Selections from it comprised Look To The Rainbow (Warner Bros., 1977), which earned him his first Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. His next album, All Fly Home (Warner Bros., 1978), won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. Successes didn't stop. The million-selling Breakin' Away (Warner Bros., 1981) pulled in Grammys for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist. Jarreau is the only singer to haveGrammys in jazz, pop and R&B.

For Jarreau, his music is a continuation of the spirit—a desire to inspire—that was part of the era in which he was raised.

"Anyone near my age came through a music explosion the likes of which the planet has never seen," he says, still to this day maintaining a sense of awe and respect. "There had never been any recorded music until we heard things through a gramophone. I remember records that were slate-like records and you put them on top of a box and set a needle on top that was two pounds heavy, and you cranked the handle and the music came out of a tin horn. That's the first music that we had. We went through this love and this joy about music that heretofore had only been represented by a guitarist in your neighborhood or an occasional run to Carnegie Hall, if you happen to live in New York City; or maybe a jazz club in your neighborhood that was doing some music; or you lived next to a polka club, like me. I lived next to a polka tavern.

"Things stuck to me in a way that things just don't stick to a generation of people now who are bored to tears with music. I can sing you most of . I can sing you all of West Side Story. I can sing you most of South Pacific, because that was new, fresh music that you could turn on and listen to in your living room. Everyone was singing it."

"My musical love for different kind of things is really deep," says Jarreau, who deliberately reflects it in his performances. "I think it was a special, precious era to have come through. That era, where you took a record home of your favorite group and you and your friends sat around together with a glass of wine, turned the lights down low, crossed your legs over a couch and laid your head back and listened to Led Zeppelin, or listened to early Stones, or whoever your favorite artist, is gone. That's gone. And it's a sad loss."

He laments that music today doesn't hold that treasured spot in the soul that it did for the previous generation, and ones before that. People don't just sit down to listen to music and perhaps discuss the whys and wherefores of their favorite musicians. Today, "music happens while, for people. While they're doing something else. They can't tell you what the lyric is. And if it's three syllables, forget it. Something very special happened for several years when this explosion of music happened, and folks who came through that had something very special happen to them. A lot of music stuck to their hearts and souls. So when you hear me, you hear a lot of that stuff come out.

Al Jarreau "There are some people who would never have found Chick Corea if they weren't listening to me. They found 'Spain' and Chick Corea and their lives were enriched. There are some people who would have never found Dave Brubeck if they hadn't been listening to me ... They heard me do 'Take Five' and went and found Dave Brubeck and their horizons were never the same."

Jarreau enjoys the spirit of that era, but doesn't look back. His eyes are on the horizon and his desire to continue spreading his music and message. "Just stay well and healthy and do more music," is his general goal.

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