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183

Al Jarreau: Simple and Necessary Happiness

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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AJ: George and I have done more work together in the last four or five years than ever before. We have been to Russia a couple of times, and we are finding our way back together, and because we are finding our way back together, we found in the closet these tapes from 1965, and with this new technology we cleaned them up real nice. It's a good listen. Just a snapshot, a photograph of what we were doing when we were babies. What was Al doing in 1965? Here it is. There's some talking and some conversations between George and me now, and the owner of the club and the drummer, Al Cecchi, and the bassist, John Heard, talking about that music and that time, and it's fun. So yeah, George and I are probably getting on a busier schedule of doing things together, so it's fun.

AAJ: There is a long history between you.

AJ: Yes, we have a long history and I am so proud of that. George is one of the most important musicians on the planet and doesn't get enough credit. What was happening was that I had moved to San Francisco and was working as a rehabilitation counselor during the day, and in the evening I was doing music as much as I could, continuing what I had done most of my life. By the time I was nineteen or twenty I started doing some clubs, and with a trio or quartet get up and sing and do some music and get paid a few bucks for it here and there and continue to live and learn and grow as a singer, and then there I was doing it in San Francisco, with the George Duke Trio.

The way it happened was that I walked in one Sunday afternoon when George Duke was playing a matinee with his trio. A matinee was when musicians would bring their horns and singers would bring their voices and we would all go there and hang out and have a beer, and sing and make music together. At the Half/Note in San Francisco, we had a softball team, honey; it was great fun! [laughs]

When I came up and sang that afternoon, he asked me what I thought of working with the trio, and I started that following weekend. That lasted from 1965 through 1968, of me working with the trio, two nights a week, sometimes three if it was a holiday weekend. I think I grew the most that I've ever grown in that period of time with George Duke, and then in the period that followed with Julio Martinez, the guitarist. So it began in a Sunday afternoon, me singing at a matinee. Just one of the singers who got up and sang, and he asked me if I wanted to sing with the trio, and now here we are. George and I continued to be friends and he has helped with several projects of mine, producing songs, and this is just a wonderful new way to launch the next several years that we will do together in various kinds of situations—and especially with his trio—and me getting up there are singing.

AAJ: What are you working on in the studio?

AJ: We began putting songs together for a new studio record for me fifteen months ago or so, and we are working with some guys in the band writing songs and there have been some songs sent to us, submitted by other writers that we like a lot, and I think we have found solid songs for this studio project. If I sound excited I am. It's a good time in my life. It's good to have that kind of motion going in your career, with new stuff.

AAJ: So how do you feel about being considered one of the Finest voices in music?

AJ: You know what? You look around in your life, and you know Stevie Wonder, and Ella Fitzgerald, Christina Aguilera...and you are just not too impressed with yourself! [laughs] So when I hear a compliment like that, I nod my head and say ,"Thank you very much." I can take a bow, but honey, I have listened to Stevie Wonder, and Pavarotti and others...

AAJ: But you do things with your voice that nobody else does. Like Betty Carter and the things she used to do...

AJ: Oh, bless you. Betty was total freedom and improvisational yearning every time you heard her sing. A vocal instrument. Amazing stuff.

AAJ: How do you think singing shapes you as a human being?

AJ: I don't know what else I am beyond what I sing about, and do as an artist. I have had the chance to live the artist life, to create, and make my living creating, and also to be celebrated as an artist, and to enjoy that. This business of picking a lump of clay, marble, wood, and in a little while it becomes "The Thinker." A moment ago, something was a piece of wood, and a guy picks it up and now it is a sculpture. Where there was a blank page, now there is a story. Now there is Beethoven's symphony. To be given that ability to create something where there was nothing before, empty space, and now there's a song; that's an amazing gift. And you're doing it as I speak now, finding the questions, so that between us, between you and me we put something together.

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