Al Jarreau and George Benson’s 2006 album “Givin It Up” was one of the most common sense musical collaborations I have enjoyed since I’ve been a fan of music. The two singer/musicians existed in their own rarefied air of international jazz vocalist pop stardom. Through their successful projects they brought the vocalese innovations of King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and the other great jazz singers to the masses mixed in with the genre’s of funk, soul, R&B, and slick adult contemporary pop. The passing earlier this week of the fantastic Mr. Jarreau is a great time to look back on this collaboration which is now going on 11 years old though their funky jam, “Long Come Tutu”, which features the two greats riffing on a great funky jazz song by another legend who is long gone now, the great Miles Davis.
“Along Come Tutu” is special because not only does it feature Al Jarreau’s vocals, and lyrics he wrote to Miles Davis track “Tutu”, it also features George Benson’s guitar (which was also an element on “Paraphanelia” from the Davis album “Miles in the Sky). The additional treats are jazz legend and Miles Davis alum Herbie Hancock on keyboards, and the songs composer and late era Miles Davis producer Marcus Miller on bass! The stage is set for a heavy tribute to Miles and the fusion side of jazz which was his last major musical innovation. The song begins with a soulful bass riff from Miller that sets up a vocal bass riff from Al Jarreau. Jarreau goes into his lyric, “Know what makes me smile?/is kicking this groove for Miles/it always makes me grin/no matter what mood I’m in.” As he sings his lyrics, Miller fils in the spaces after his vocals, in the vein of a guitar player, with fluid bass licks that wouldn’t have been expected from bass guitar before bassists like Miller and Jaco Pastorious took the scene. The groove kicks in with some snare hits from Marcus White. The famous Tutu bassline comes in, which Marcus has said was inspired by the dark, brooding Miles Davis “Prince of Darkness” persona. But also in Marcus patented style, he also plays another bassline on top of that which riffs in that guitar/fill in style. After that Hancock begins to play the beautiful “Tutu” harmonies on keyboard, with that famous 1980s vocal sample tone, on the top of which Al Jarreau adds his vocals, which in the melody he sings, “A long, long time/we were waiting.” Al sings right along with the songs musical climax, after which George Benson plays his guitar during the break, to which he also adds his patented guitar playing/scat combo. Benson’s guitar riffs are interspersed with Al Jarreau’s hook, “Long Came Tu-Tu!”, after which Benson gets to do more guitar scat. The next go round Benson gets a chance to sing the lyric while also accompanying himself on guitar. After which Herbie Hancock gets a chance to solo with an acoustic piano tone. Herbie starts his solo playing trilling bluesy licks down the keyboard, then plays some soft licks that leave plenty of space, while starting to harmonize the melody and ending with silence. After which George Benson plays a guitar solo, and what’s interesting is Marcus Miller adds a different section and groove behind his solo that extends on the arrangement from the original Tutu. And its still wonderful after all these years to hear George Benson solo with Herbie Hancock’s wonderful comping behind it. Even Al Jarreau has to laugh, but he also has the last laugh because after Benson solo’s he takes a fine vocalese solo himself. On the next solo break, Mr. Hancock gets a chance to play again, and this time he plays with much more force while also exploring his patented colors, behind which both Miller and Benson add tasteful riffs. After Hancock’s solo, the song goes back to the top, with Jarreau singing and Benson comping, followed by a restating of the stop time chorus, with Jarreau singing “Along come TU-TU!” with George Benson riffing and scatting to the songs end.
“Along Come Tutu” is a treat for me on several levels. For one I was always a fan of the song “Tutu” and it was amazing to me that a musician like Miles Davis could release something so funky and fresh in the twilight of his career. Of course he was able to do that by working with musicians like the song’s composer, Marcus Miller, who had new and fresh ideas yet also great respect for Miles. Miller is here, along with Hancock, Benson, and Al Jarreau. Together these four form a veritable Mt. Rushmore of jazz trained musicians with funky soulful chops who have been major players in the pop field. “Along Come Tutu” is a song that proves to be a fine vehicle for the talents of these master musicians. Quite excitingly they add “Tutu” to the jazz song book alongside other Miles tunes such as “Four”, with it’s famous lyric penned by Jon Hendricks that they also covered on “Givin’ It Up.” And it’s a fine tribute to Al Jarreau’s legacy that he stands alongside George Benson and Herbie Hancock on this song and solo’s with as much verve, confidence and musicality as they do on their instruments. And that is how I will always remember him, as a singer with a fine instrument that he always explored in the most dynamic of fashions!