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Al Jarreau: Simple and Necessary Happiness

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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AJ: We all change every moment, so probably not. I am changing and I am closer to "getting it right" now than I was before. And what I mean by "getting it right" is making the most and the best of your life that you ought to be committed to doing, and in some ways I am a lot the same and in some ways I am changing. I have some New Year's resolutions that I am better at keeping this year than last year [laughs]. Just doing some things differently in my life, because it's important. I have some doctors these days that I didn't have ten years ago, and they are shaking that finger in my face and saying "stop this and stop that," and I am still putting too much salt in my food, and I like my cocktail in the evening.

So in some ways I am changing and doing things better, and being honest with myself and my wife and those around me, but this is all stuff and a side of me that you wouldn't know unless I talk about it, but it's in the songs. Things that I knew that are important, like living a good, honest, clean, responsible life. The little life we all want to do when we sit and look at ourselves and then look at the man in the mirror. It's part of the answer, and maybe the most important part of what it is all about as I go into my 72nd year.

AAJ: Tell me about the US Air Force band.

AJ: It has been the second year in a row that I have performed with the US Air Force Band, jazz big band, called Airmen of Note. They are wonderful, brilliant men, one of the last performing big bands in the world. These guys have careers in the air force, and are serving their country, and are allowed to play music as their duty in the air force and represent the air force all over the world, going and playing this music and making people crazy listening to this great music that we call jazz. There's a singer in that band that sings a ton; it's a great show for people that know me in my normal situation to see me sing with this big band playing jazzy licks and R&B licks and solos, in a way they have never heard it before.

AAJ: It's a beautiful way to contribute to keeping this music alive.

AJ: Oh yeah, you are absolutely right. Keeping that music alive the way that band does, and I get a chance to help. All kinds of things get cut these days because there is no money for it, and I'll bet you this big band is just fighting for their lives. It's great to go and be with them and say "this is important music, don't cut it, don't stop it!" And, by the way, our school programs need some money. And so do our highways and bridges. And we can put people to work. We lost our railroads, we are not shipping on our railroads... We gotta wake up!

AAJ: The San Remo music festival.

AJ: A few years ago I was there and we stopped for some coffee, or some dinner, and there sitting across from me was the classical singer, Luciano Pavarotti, smiling with a nice, gentle smile, and waiving at me, and I could see him saying, "Al Jarreau." We were both singing at that festival. It is a very important music festival in Italy. These festivals keep the traditional sounds and music alive. And I say that in opposition of what has become a different kind of world music, all below the hips, all below the belt, you know what I mean? The new American music. That is why I am so glad about The Voice and American Idol, because it is still traditional singing, and I love that. Hip hop is fine, but it should have not taken over the entire world of music in America, just should not have. We have lost a lot of great kinds of music because one form of music has kind of taken over, just like it happened with rock 'n' roll, and today everything has become hip hop.

Everything became hip hop. It's like they can't find anything else to listen to..."you see what I'm sayin'?..." [laughs] And we can't do that. It's robbing people of a variety of music, whether it is polkas, bluegrass or the classical station, people can listen to different things at the same time, and all of those great promoters and radio people think that they can only listen to this kind of music, and get that other stuff out of the way because that's how they make money, and we lose stuff, we lose valuable things.

If you love the music and you do it right, you find your little audience that likes what you do and I tell you, if you are coming from the right place that'll be alright for you. You don't need to have a huge audience and make a gazillion dollars. You don't have to. I haven't made a gazillion dollars and I do okay. I do not put my record company in the red because they produce Al Jarreau music. They haven't gotten rich. I have my audience, and that is wonderful and allows me to sing what I sing and how I sing it, and the music that I do is for survival, and inspirational music, and there are people that want to hear that.

AAJ: George Duke, Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio "Live" at the Half Note 1965 (Vol 1) (BPM Records, 2011), and touring together.


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