It’s up north there, near Hamburg, and I must have played here a bunch of times over the past since 1976. I’m certain there were a lot of people who came to Uncle Po in Hamburg during that first and second week in Germany in 1976, I spend several moments, thanking them for that great send off, and their loyalty to my music ever since. And I say, “Here we go again!” I was new back then, and now, I’m asking you to allow me to be new again doing Ellington with the Nord Deutsche Rundfunk Big Band. Thank you for coming tonight and taking a chance. This is extraordinary, you know! So in that spirit of things in the moment, we take Ellington himself on a trip.

Jorg, Joe Turano, and I have tried to be Jarreau-ish in our approach to Duke Ellington. We wanted our arrangements to sound like Al Jarreau and how he would approach things. We didn’t want our arrangements to sound like we had simply gone out and bought the sheet music and did something stock and unadventuresome. Of course, this is risky, but our thinking has been that if you take the time to look inside and find Al Jarreau-isms and build good solid arrangements around that, you very well could have something fresh and new. In fact, this is what we hope our audiences will sense and feel and respond to. So Hannover is concert number six, and I haven’t been thrown in jail for disrespect to Ellington. In fact, I’m pleased as punch, joyous and happy, at the response so far.


Sometimes, there is a person or group of people in the audience who just really are so present in their attention to what’s happening on stage, and so responsive, and happy about being there at that moment, that the performer is drawn to them, and in fact finds himself lifted to more and more inspired playing or singing. It happened tonight. There were two ladies in the second row, just right of center, who touched me that way. Of course, I did not ignore everyone else, but as I sang to other people out there, I brought the inspiration these two ladies in the second row. When it’s working like this, you even have fun with a loud mouth over in the right hand isle about 20 rows back, who yells something that is totally unintelligible and whack! I invite him to come up, and he says the same unintelligible whack thing again! It’s so comfortable in the house, that I tell him to come up to the stage again, and then he shuts and gets quiet. But I don’t stop! I said, “HEY!” So, look, everybody, he added as much of the specialness to that evening. Folks will remember that night because of that exchange between him and Al Jarreau, and that it didn’t interrupt the flow. It was so cool, it was as though it was planned.


This was a wonderful night that was really exceptional because of the looseness of things. Nothing pushed. We all just allowed it to happen… even the guy on the right. I wish I had a moment to say hi to those two ladies. If they’re reading this, they know who they were. Once again, a really big bow and thank you to my Hannover friends who love NDR and came to hear us take a ride on Ellington’s A Train.


-Al Jarreau

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I woke up this morning, and wow, there was sunshine!  In southern California, we coast along with sunny mornings being the norm. Over here, in Europe, by late September, there can be days and weeks of cloudy days. Cool and cloudy, then cold and cloudy. And then comes the snow. After several days of cloudy weather, I found myself reacting to sunshine, just outside the window… and I laughed to myself. That set the tone of things for the day.

The concert hall is almost a 360 degree wrap around audience seating venue. It was at sound check that I realized what a long walk it was going to be from off stage to my set up on stage. But I get there, sit down, and take a moment to thank NDR for this time with them, where I’m learning so much and finding a new me. I love being around so much inspired “playing and soloing”. We stop in the dressing room for an hour, and then it’s show time! For my first number, I start out to cross the stage, on a crutch, with Joe Turano supporting me on the other side, shouting, “Come on, let’s go to Harlem!” Of course, they did not know I was coming out on a crutch, but there’s a slow and gradual increase in applause and shouts, and I realize it’s an acknowledgement of the effort. I sit down on my stool and raise my arms in the fashion of an Olympic gymnastics champion who just stuck the landing, and throwing my arms in the air like they do, in that well known end of routine pose, and I yell, “Ta-daaah!” They recognize it and scream. It’s a great way to begin the night.

Off we go with “Drop me off in Harlem” and Ingolf’s fiery trumpet playing gives them fair warning. And then, bang! Right into Duke’s “I let a Song go out of my Heart,” as a hot little jazz waltz, with a screaming alto solo by Feite. This is probably a new and challenging version of “I let a song” but it is so powerful that it carries you along and it works. It’s just about at this point when I look down at the first row and directly in front of me, there’s a lady who looks like the twin of  Angela Merkel.   I was convinced, and spent a lot of the evening addressing songs and comments to one of the great world leaders.

I rode the wave of that possibility all night long, and made comments to this Dortmund, Germany audience about so many things, like the importance of this national/international treasure, Nord Duetsche Rundfunk Big Band,  Pretty soon, we’re at “Take the A Train,” and close out the first half of an eight song set.

It’s somewhere into the second half that I look up and realize that there are three balconies. The third is so high up near the ceiling, that I hadn’t seen it ’til the lights were just right. And there were people up there. I began to look more toward the balconies during the second half. Frank Delle comes down front and blows the front doors off, with tenor sax at “Beginning to see the Light.” Claus plays the most blue and moody muted trumpet on “I got it Bad and that Ain’t Good”.

The spectrum of the concert takes more shape, and then another surprise, and then we close the evening with some Jarreau standards as encores. This was the seventh time doing this program, and the audience response has been wunderbar. Thank you, God. Thank you, Dortmund. See you in Vienna.

– Al Jarreau

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The concert hall is a conversion from a planetarium, with a domed ceiling, to a basically round room, with a stage occupying an arc that’s about 40 feet deep to the back row of the band. This is a most amazing and interesting venue to be in because of what the conversion required. Really interesting levels of floors and stairways, that give an Eschere like feeling, has two recognizable balconies, the upper one being quite close to the dome ceiling. If you’re able to capture the spirit of this structure in some aspect of your performing, it’s a magical wonder!

I realized at sound check that I have played in this room at least one other time. I looked down and just to my right, and it’s the Bear Sisters! They’ve come all the way from Berlin. We start laughing and grinning immediately as I was pointing to them. They’ve been coming to my concerts since they were teenagers. 13 and 15. They have remained true to their tradition of bringing me a little stuffed Berlin bear… always. There must be 20 of these at home, in my office and my music room. Ricarda got the inspiration to sing and perform and she does it a lot. She has felt the joy in her life that comes from music, and sharing it with listeners and other players. What a wonderful thing. Those kinds of moments are so very, very special for me and my audience, especially when they see it happen. It opens the door for mentioning the grandmothers and grandchildren who come see me now.

In a flash, this Dusseldorf audience senses the truth about which I speak all the time, that Germany has been very important to me, for a long time, since the beginning.

We soared high to the planetarium ceiling last night, and did three encore songs, and we were finally allowed to stop! I always feel like I never thank the band enough. There isn’t enough thanks. They play this jazz genre like they’re Americans from New Orleans, Chicago, or Harlem, with contemporary sensitivities of our finest players in America.

I forgot the Moniques were going to be there, and when they showed up, I almost lost it. The music brought the three of us together at different periods in my life and career, and they found each other, and they’ve become like friends who are more like sisters. Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, they come together. We laughed and grinned and reviewed old stories like it was Christmas eve. Oh, man, I love that! And so we closed out performance number five, hardly believing that we’ve finished five performing days! Well, we have, and even though I’m still not confident about the material, I feel pretty good! Thank you, Dusseldorf, and the planetarium (yes, we touched the stars).


-Al Jarreau

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Dresden, Germany

Old Dresden! Really old and beautiful, like a pretty silver haired lady having tea and a touch of vodka and bourbon. She’s seen a lot and still she smiles quietly.

Oh, they like our music, our poems and jazz, too.

They do 14 days of jazz every year. This is my second time here, and this time it’s with NDR. I’m exploring a bit of the big band universe. This was our fourth night, and it was wonderful to share some music and feelings and heart with this audience of long time jazz listeners, who truly love subtleties and delicacies, of tones and chords and rhythms and feelings. At sound check, we saw the big black & white stills… photos of the greats, past and present, peeking out at us from behind their instruments. Faces glistening of sweat… enough to.. “ok I’m going home now!”

So, we all took a deep breath… pretty sure that we would have some Ellington lovers, and that would be a good start. Getting on and off stage for sound check and performance is a little difficult these days. I’m using a crutch a lot. This venue was a serious challenge to just get on stage, and make it to my center position. It’s 8 O’clock and time to hit it. There’s screaming applause and people on their feet immediately, as NDR takes the stage. WOW! That’s a shot in the arm! There’s a real love for this organization of jazzers that’s been around since 1946. I’ve been getting some great spill over/trickle down effect from being with them, from doing Ellington! My god!

They do pay special attention and applaud loudly as I hobble across stage with a crutch and on Joe Turano’s arm. I’m calling, “Taxi! Harlem! Cabby! Harlem!” I tell ‘em, come on, everybody! Drop me off in Harlem. They get it.

By half time, they’ve heard some fabulous soloing and ensemble playing of new Ellington. New Ellington, still Ellington. I struggle back down the ramp to my dressing room, and get ready for a second half. Here we go! Nothing like a hot sparkling version of “Cotton Tail,” for welcoming the audience back to their seats, and getting their ears open again. The second half is a little more risky, featuring a seldom heard Brubeck song, a non Ellington composition, called “The Duke,” and what a lovely tribute it is to someone who must have been a hero of Dave Brubeck’s… Nice little circular admiration society, as you guys know how much I love Brubeck. They liked it, just the way we all hoped they would appreciate it. With this second half, we’ll include a couple of nice high wire moves on “Nothing but the Blues,” and “Satin Doll.” This ought to be a first timing experience for the audience on both of these classic Ellington compositions. This is our fourth night, and so far the response has been wonderful!

What has happened here is… Joe Turano and Jorg Keller and I began with a big broad list of tunes that we thought are important to cover, which we thought we could find some fresh arranging, soloing, and singing. AND THEN we let the kids out for recess and joined them. We let out some ideas and asked Jorg if “this” or “that” could work. Jorg has an amazing ability to understand the gist of an idea, and then expand on it, and bring it to life, in a way that makes a whole and wonderful new canvas, on which to paint. It’s like Joe and I would suggest some flowers and Jorg would return with a garden all laid out. I keep discovering new stuff inside these Jorg Keller arrangements every day, and I’m certain that will continue to happen inside this book of Ellington arrangements that we’re doing.

We ended up doing three encores for this jazz audience, and we all left the stage feeling good.

The hotel does a wonderful late night jazz session that I felt conspicuous about not attending, but it was time for me to lay down and be still and give thanks. So farewell to madam Dresden, with her beautiful silver hair. Auf wiedersehen. Thank you, Jazztage Festival.

-Al Jarreau

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Norway – Kristiansand and Baerum

Norway, you say? Didn’t I tell you about getting lost, jogging in the snow, that afternoon before we played Club 7 down stairs? Oh, and didn’t I tell you about the time our equipment truck slid off the freeway and onto an icy fjord, and we were two hours late starting the concert? Well, yes, of course, Norway.

When George and I were playing at the Half Note back in 1965, there was a little San Francisco enclave of Norwegians that used to come. It’s starting a little fire glowing in my mind about how wonderful it would be to play in Norway some time, in all that ice and snow and cold. I thought about Saint Olaf college, and Carlton College, in Northfield Minnesota, and all those nieces and nephews of Saint Olaf, warrior king. I played on their basketball courts for four years when I was at Ripon College.  Norway, you say?? Why not Argentina? Why not Italy? Why not France? In fact, why not Germany? Hello!!! The answer is OF COURSE! All of those places. Music is a powerful language and a healing force. I have dreamed of doing music everywhere in the world. Ask me about Skudeneshavn. Small fishing village on the coast of Norway. I love telling Norwegian audiences that this is where I really was born. So yes, Norway, since 1978.

So here we go, making an early run to Norway’s Kristiansand and Baerum, with the “new me” again. That is, the Al Jarreau and the Nord Deutsche Rundfunk Big Band. I would have never set up the schedule so that our second and third performances would be outside of Germany. Germany is home base for the NDR national treasure Big Band. I would have allowed our confidence in this new Ellington program to have a few more concerts at home before going to any other country outside of Germany. It’s kind of like after a good solid opening at home, we jumped right into the deep end.

Pow. Super pow! You guys in Kristiansand and Baerum gave us such a wonderful reaction from outside of Germany, that we came back to Germany for our 4th and 5th nights, with a special confidence about this Ellington program. I’m a bit late with these comments, but I want you to be aware of my special thank you to my Norwegian friends and family.

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Hamburg – start of tour with NDR BigBand!

We arrived in Hamburg to do the final rehearsals for our new Duke Ellington program. Hamburg’s heading into fall and winter, so it was expectedly overcast and grey, and could have given us a real good sprinkle of rain, but not quite yet. The trees hadn’t moved into their autumn golds and reds yet, but it was on the way soon. The first time I came here, in 1976, I had been a Californian for more than ten years, and even then, looked forward to the changing seasons, like at home in Wisconsin. I was enjoying this cool fall weather, with leaves about to change, and in my mind, bringing on a kind of early pre-Christmas season (in high school, the acapella choir helped all this notion by rehearsing Christmas music, which would make you feel the spirit of Christmas for a long long Christmas eve starting the first day of the fall semester). So here we were again, I was beginning to have a bit of that spirit in me, but this time we would be rehearsing the Ellington program.

It seemed like such a long way off when we began those first exploratory rehearsals with arrangements which were still in formation, back sixteen months ago… but abracadabra. Here we were, three rehearsal days from the opening night. The NDR BigBand (Nord Duetscher Rundfunk) and it’s organization has been around since 1946. They fell in love with American jazz, and studied it, and practiced it, and played it, and you would think these guys from little towns in Germany were all from Chicago, Harlem, or St. Louis. That’s how well they play  jazz. I became deeply aware of this when Joe Sample and I did a tour with them a few years ago. They did Joe’s entire album called “Children of the Sun”  (a poetic name for slaves), and I did songs from Porgy and Bess. It was a big success. When someone suggested that we think about doing the Ellington songbook, I was shouting, “Let’s go!” And here we are, just finishing opening night, tired and out of breath, but thrilled with the reaction of my home audience in Hamburg.

They opened the doors for me in all of Europe, and as a matter a fact, helped open up a lot of doors in America during my early career, when the U.S. began to get word that one of their very own was knocking it out of the park in Europe. Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, etc. And so we arrived to put the finishing touches on rehearsal stuff and start the tour. I’ve been doing this stuff for fifty years, boys and girls, but let me assure you, this had me shakin’ in my boots! Ellington was not entirely new to me, but these arrangements are a real challenge. Jorg Keller, our arranger and conductor for the program, really set his genius and brilliance to work, and came up with some show stopping beautiful stuff. Every band solo was accompanied by interesting and new cordial voicings, and then big band shouts and hits, and the soloing is as good as it gets! If I can just get me to cooperate, remember lines, entrances and exits, we will be ok. I would have been happy if that opening night in Hamburg was just “ok.” Well, it was over the moon. It was out of sight, and Hamburg welcomed me back home with their own NDR Big Band, with thunder response. I had worried and fretted about how I would make that journey from the stage door, twelve yards down stage, towards the audience, down two steps, and then fifteen yards across the stage. That was Mount Kilimanjaro for me! I was exhausted by the time I got to position for my note, except they applauded me the whole way, making me feel good about the “the effort”… making the effort. I’m aware of all of this now as we sit here and talk, but at the time, it was a bit clouded by the fact that I was praying so hard, “Oh, dear God, let me sing this stuff correctly tonight.”

I don’t want to give away the entire program for the evening, but we did do “Drop me off in Harlem”, and “Take the A Train”, and included a Brubeck composition called “The Duke”. It was an intermission program, and I was stunned how quickly the intermission came and went, and we did a second half of great adventuresome arrangements of Jorg Keller, with wonderful solos, and by then, I could feel and had a sense of the audience being in a “wow” mood and mode.

At the end of the program, they stood up and wouldn’t stop clapping until we were obviously headed toward and encore. Well, we did a few, including “Take 5”. The audience response was as much as I’ve ever felt for any performance. I can still feel a real return of love to this audience and Hamburg. I can’t find the words, but suffice it to say that I’m thrilled with this reunion. I couldn’t sleep. Grinning all night long. I did some autographs backstage and said hello to Werner, and to Gerrit Glaner from Steinway & Sons… but it didn’t stop there.  Just before boarding the plane the next day, I met with Petra. She had been at the concert, and she could not stop grinning and smiling and laughing, and gave me such a strong, heartfelt, warm handshake, I thought, “wow! I can’t wait to get on stage and do it again!” Ok… I’m done with superlatives… for now! Thank you, Hamburg. I love you so much! Next stop, Norway!

-Al Jarreau

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