Category Archives: Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau (1940-2017): We Thank You For Your Service,But Do We Have You Covered?

al-jarreau-dreamscope2

Al Jarreau is one of those artists whose followed me from my first understandings of music to the present day.  “We’re In This Love Together” is one of the first pop song memories I have from a sentimental standpoint. Jarreau’s voice is now the creature of massive creative and commercial recognition-by everyone from music critics to the Grammy Awards.  Now its come to the realization that admiring Al Jarreau’s vocals is to understand the improvisational technique and unique phrasing of Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis. And that’s the way I will always think of the man.

Sadly,Mister Jarreau is no longer with us. A week ago,he cancelled his recent tour and announced his retirement. And yesterday my friend Henrique said he was no longer with us. He was exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday. Jarreau was an extremely successful man as an artist. A seven time Grammy winner (and 20 time nominee) from 1979-2013,he was also the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees in music. The most significant part of this legacy was that his major label debut album didn’t get recorded or released until Jarreau was 35 years old.

Born in Millwakee,Wisconsin Jarreau graduated from Ripton College,and started a career as a rehabilitation counselor. By 1968, Jarreau was totally devoted to music after years of great success in the California bay area club scene. By 1975,he was signed to Warner Bros. records and recorded his major label debut We Got By. It started a precedence for the man writing songs that matched his distinctive vocals. These were chordally busy songs,always accompanied by the cream of the crop of jazz players of that era such as-which would go on to include the likes of Lee Ritenour,Freddie Hubbard and Paulinho Da Costa.

Al Jarreau’s vocal instrument was as idiosyncratic as it was ingenious. He was able to cross heavy jazz improvisational vocals over for funk,soul and pop listener’s with great success. That meant that his major breakout album Breakin Away could contain the urban classic “We’re In This Love Together” along with a show stopping performance of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard “Blue Rondo Ala Turk”. How many crossover jazz singers of the mid 70’s to early 80’s can any of us say that about? There’s a lot of Jarreau’s music I have yet to hear. But even though he’s gone now,there’s much more to say of his musical legacy.

1 Comment

Filed under Al Jarreau

Anatomy of THE Groove 8/15/2014-Andre’s Pick: “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) by Al Jarreau featuring Marcus Miller

George Duke was one of those musical figures that I personally found creatively inspirational. In his lifetime,he was able to fulfill his artistic promise of being able to be a siphon of the musical spirit that lay behind Duke Ellington,P-Funk,Frank Zappa,Earth Wind & Fire and Milton Nachimento-all coming from the source of one musical mind. When he passed away,all too soon,last year? It seemed inevitable that a tribute would come from someone,someday.
And in only a years time for his birthday? Creative collaborator and friend Al Jarreau got some of Duke’s musical compatriots-both vocalists and instrumentalists for the special tribute album My Old Friend. One of the songs presented was an unheard number written collaboratively by Duke and Jarreau called “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)”-featuring one of my favorite living bassists in the jazz-funk vein in Mr. Marcus Miller.

Marcus,who plays most of the instruments on this song opens with a cinematic synthesizer orchestration before Jarreau chimes in with a very Afrocentric vocalese chant-after which Marcus’s slap bass comes in with Mike Cottone’s muted,”cool jazz” styled trumped solo-the tone of which Jarreau replicates with his soft,slow vocalizing. On the refrains,Jarreau delivers a deep descending vocal. On the bridge,a beautiful melange of sax,trumpet and electric piano segues out of the song with the same mixture of cinematic orchestration with Jarreau’s chants that began the song.

This is one of those songs that…really quite brilliantly fuses vocal jazz improvisation with a funk rhythmic approach. With its use of blue notes and Marcus’s own knack for expression the late George Duke’s love of instrumental texturization? The imaginative, somewhat mysical orientation of the music goes ideally with the somewhat faintly performed and even obsure lyrical content. From what I can gather of it,this is a song about the complex interpersonal relationship black Americans have with spirituality. And with a song with song a deeply propulsive funk groove and jazz harmonics? It makes that point beautifully.

1 Comment

Filed under Al Jarreau, Duke Ellington, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, Jazz, Marcus Miller