STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
There is no substitute for the uplifting, silky smooth voice of iconic singer Al Jarreau. A quintessential jazz artist, Jarreau’s timeless recordings — “We’re in this Love Together,” “After All,” “Never Givin’ Up,” “Boogie Down” and “Your Precious Love” — have made him a household name. Celebrating six decades in music, Jarreau, at age 74, is still dazzling audiences around the globe.
The treasured jazzman’s latest effort, a meticulously assembled tribute to his great friend and musical peer George Duke, is entitled “My Old Friend, Celebrating George Duke.”
“George’s passing last year caught everybody by surprise,” says Jarreau from his Venice, Italy hotel room. “I just really felt an ache for his voice. When I sat in my producer’s office at Concord Records and he says to me ‘What would you think about a George Duke tribute?’ It scared the hell out of me, but I had to say yes! That’s a monumental undertaking. How do you do a tribute to George Duke and do that music? Nobody can cover that scope! So, at the same time my heart was leaping out of my chest and going, ‘Come on George help me out here. What am I going to do?’”
“The challenges were really great,” says Jarreau. “George was a really broad kind of musician that played a wide range of things excellently. He mastered that stuff so much that it pushed our abilities and made us learn more about this work. You might say that I was going to Duke University, as in George (laughs). I’m still at Duke University doing the Masters class (laughs).”
Featuring appearances by friends and fans of Duke, a roster including Gerald Albright, Stanley Clarke, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Boney James, Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Kelly Price and Dianne Reeves, Jarreau and company produced a wonderful tribute to a man who touched the lives of fans worldwide.
“When people like this say yes to a project like this, they are just the anchor points in the project,” says Jarreau. “When they said yes, we just fell to our knees and thanked God for those guys. These are people, myself included, who loved George and crossed paths musically with George. You just stand back and watch the magic flow. You stand in there and do what you can to contribute to make it a new approach to the music. George’s spirit was in the room all the time. We all knew. I think we found new approaches to the music. I think the work that we did is a new listen. It’s kind of hard to miss if you do your job. This is tried and true material. It’s like George Duke’s greatest hits done by Al Jarreau. It’s really a sweet brotherhood of kindred hearts.”
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wis., Jarreau relocated to San Francisco, California in the mid 1960s after earning a degree from Ripon College and a Masters in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa.
A social worker by day, Jarreau’s desire to be a singer led him to perform in a Bay area jazz club with George Duke and his trio.
Expanding his musical reach, Jarreau found himself working the L.A. club scene and performing at the legendary Troubadour, the Bitter End West and Dino’s. As his popularity grew, opportunities to entertain a national audience on the Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and David Frost TV shows became routine.
Jarreau made an auspicious recording debut with the release of his jazz album “1965.” Displeased with the record, he took a ten-year hiatus from the recording studio before making his Warner Brothers debut with “We Got By” in 1975.
The first vocalist in the history of music to receive a Grammy Award in jazz, R&B and pop, Jarreau won the first of seven Grammy Awards in 1977 for best jazz vocal performance on “Look To The Rainbow.“ Subsequent Grammies followed, including Best Jazz Vocal for “All Fly Home” (1978), Best Recording for Children for “In Harmony” (1981), Best Jazz Vocal Male for “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (1981), Best Pop Vocal Male for “Breakin’ Away” (1981), Best R&B Vocal Male for “Heaven and Earth” (1982), Best Traditional R&B Vocal for “God Bless The Child” (2006) and Best Pop Instrumental for “Mornin’” (with George Benson) (2006).
The platinum record “Breakin Away” (1981) featured the smash hit “We’re in This Love Together.” He also co-wrote and recorded the lilting theme song for the 1980’s hit TV show “Moonlighting.”
“You can’t say anything more important and significant than my music brings you up when you are having a down day,” says Jarreau. “If I’m doing something that brings a smile, that’s the stuff. That’s the ministry.”
Along with his numerous musical accomplishments, Jarreau has enjoyed opportunities to share his acting talents. He has played the role of Teen Angel in the hit Broadway stage musical “Grease” and appeared on the hit TV shows “Touched By An Angel” and “New York Undercover.”
In 2001, Jarreau was given a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. He was elected into the “Soul Music Hall of Fame” in 2012.
“I have my little share, my little audience,” says Jarreau. “My little niche is fine for me. I don’t need your gazillion seller. That’s not what I got in the game for. I got in the game to do the stuff I love that makes me happy and joyous. I want people to experience joy, happiness, smiles, laughter, and togetherness — a fellowship kind of experience. This music should be fun.”
IF YOU GO
Al Jarreau and David Sanborn perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21 at the The Dell Music Center, 33rd Street, Ridge Avenue and Dauphin Street, Philadelphia. Tickets can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com, www.mydelleast.com or at the Dell Box Office. For more information, call 215-685-9560.
To stay up to date with Al Jareeau visit www.aljarreau.com