THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE
TSJR Featured Artist

On a biweekly basis, TSJR will feature here an artist (or group), either new or well-established, who has impressed our staff recently or over the years. The spotlight is now on...

Al Jarreau – The Sultan of Scat

July 25, 2010

Editor’s Note: It is an unfortunate coincidence that we had slated this beloved crooner to be our featured artist for this period just as he fell ill. It is our sincere hope that he will read and recall these accounts of his illustrious  career, and it will further aid in his recovery to splendid and blessed health once again. Here’s to you, Al! You are truly one of a kind.

Singer/personality extraordinaire Al Jarreau's unique vocal style is, without question, one of the world's most precious treasures. His innovative musical expressions have made him one of the most exciting and critically-acclaimed performers of our time with numerous Grammy Awards, scores of international music awards, and popular accolades worldwide.

It's not surprising that he has perfected his technique to such an art. After all, he has been singing since  age four, harmonizing with his brothers, and performing solo at a variety of local events in his hometown of Milwaukee, WI. However, and this may come as a surprise to some, music, was not always the central focus in his life. He excelled in sports and was an above-average student throughout high school and college.

Enrolling at the respected Ripon College in Wisconsin, Jarreau continued singing for fun, performing locally with a group called The Indigos during weekends and holidays, and graduated with a Bachelor Of Science degree in Psychology.  After moving on to the University of Iowa to earn his Master's Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation, Jarreau subsequently relocated to San Francisco to begin a career in rehabilitation counseling.

It was there that Al's natural musical gifts began to shape his future. He found himself performing at a small jazz club with a trio headed by George Duke, and by the late 60's, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. Relocating to Los Angeles, he began his apprenticeship in such famed nightspots as Dino's, the Troubador, and the Bitter End West. Shortly thereafter, he branched out to New York City as well, where he gained national network television exposure with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, David Frost and Mike Douglas as he teamed with guitarist Julio Martinez to "spell" up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, David Brenner, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, The Improv.

In 1975, following an extended stint at the Bla Bla Cafe in Los Angeles, he was spotted by Warner Bros. Records talent scouts and was signed to a recording contract. His debut album for the label, We Got By, was released to unanimous acclaim. It was a reception that spread across the continent and over the Atlantic when Jarreau was awarded a German Grammy for Best New International Soloist that same year. A second German Grammy came his way with the release of his follow-up album, Glow.

In 1977, Jarreau embarked on his first world tour, from which the selections for Look To The Rainbow, his double live album, were culled. That same year, he won his first American Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance and was singled out for special honors in readers and critics polls in Performance, Cashbox, Downbeat, Stereo Review, and other respected music publications.

His fourth album, All Fly Home, was released in 1978 to further accolades and a second Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. It was followed by a string of innovative and original offerings, including 1980's This Time, and the million-selling Breakin' Away, which brought him a broader audience and two more Grammy's with awards for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist.

The follow-ups to Breakin' Away, 1983's Jarreau and High Crime, spawned a string of R&B and pop hits and further cemented him as an international superstar. Al Jarreau Live In London, recorded before an SRO crowd at Wembley Arena in 1985, continued to solidify Jarreau's reputation as a world-class master of both studio and stage. Following the live album, Jarreau teamed with top producer Nile Rodgers for L Is For Lover, which brought some new styles and sounds to the singer's repertoire. He continued to top the stateside charts in 1987 and became a weekly guest in America's living rooms singing the Grammy® nominated theme song for the hit television series "Moonlighting."

He soon launched into the recording of the Heart's Horizon album, which contained the #2 R&B smash "So Good" and earned him another GRAMMY® nomination, this time for Best R&B Album. After touring the globe for nearly two years, he returned to the studio - this time with Narada Michael Walden - to fashion the sound that would launch him into his third decade of music-making. The result was 1992's Heaven and Earth for which he received his fifth GRAMMY® for Best R&B Vocal Performance. With this, he became one the rare artists to have won GRAMMY'S® in the three categories of jazz, pop, and R&B.

In 1994, Tenderness was released. On this Marcus Miller-produced gem, Jarreau is joined by an all-star cast (David Sanborn, Kathleen Battle, Joe Sample, Steve Gadd, and others) to bring us a host of familiar contemporary compositions and to revisit a few Jarreau classics.

The year 1996 brought some exciting career challenges. While on a break from touring, Jarreau accepted a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical "Grease!" Other recent credits include guest star appearances on "New York Undercover," "Touched By An Angel," and a national McDonald's commercial with R&B songstress, Vesta Williams.

Then, to commemorate 20 years of success, Jarreau released his first-ever compilation album, Best of Al Jarreau. The collection highlights 14 of Jarrreau's best-known songs alongside two new tracks produced by Jarreau's long-time friend, jazz giant George Duke.

GRP Records, a label of The Verve Music Group,  signed Jarreau and reunited him with his old friend and producer Tommy LiPuma, who produced Jarreau’s Glow and Look to the Rainbow recordings.  The artist recorded his first album for the GRP label, Tomorrow Today, released in the U.S. on March 7, 2000. One of the highlights from the album was a duet with Vanessa Williams on the song, “God’s Gift to the World.” The signing resulted in such other sterling recordings as 2002’s All I Got and the Jarreau/Benson collaboration Givin’ It Up in 2006.  To say that this phenomenal artist has been no stranger to the recording studio is a gross understatement, to say the least!

The scat king has been awarded a star on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame," commemorating his status as one of the best singers of his generation.  Can you think of anyone more deserving?  Thank God for the ever-sparkling spirit of this vibrant, richly gifted  “young” man!

Contributing source: Aljarreau.com

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