St Louis – Jazz at the Bistro

As I sat there, doing my morning gratitudes and looking out the window, I realized that we were just 200 yards from the gateway arch in Saint Louis, said to be the doorway to the Western United States, which early settlers traveled as they went west, from the great eastern cities. For me, it took a moment for this symbol and its significance to personally settle in, and give me that “Oh, wow” experience. Oh, wow, of course! Here we were in Saint Louis for two nights at the Bistro, introducing the Al Jarreau duo – Me and Joe Turano.  Joe and I will do our fifth and sixth outings as a duo here, in America.

This duo concept is not entirely new. Between 1968 and 1975, I had a lot of success with an Al Jarreau and Julio Martinez guitar/vocal duo, which has beginnings in Sausolito at Gatsby’s bar, then moved to LA to Dean Martin’s Deano’s, on Sunset Strip. You’ll remember “77 Sunset Strip!” A television show, with “Kookie Burns.” Then came a pianist, Richard Dworsky, to expand the sound with Rhodes at the Blabla Cafe, who was followed by Tom Canning, who played on the first four records. Since pre-Gatsby’s in San Francisco, I was incorporating the cabaca, a brazilian rhythm instrument, and thumping on the mic stand with my foot to get the bass sound. As elementary in scope as this may seem, we were getting a lot of music out of two people. All of this went away after the first record, “We Got By,” until recently.   Our eyes reopened to that format, and its amazing possibilities… simply put, intimacy and personal communication. Just the basic thing, in your face.

The wonderful Saint Louis connection occurred at a small institute of musical studies (especially jazz), with an adjacent performing studio called “The Bistro.” center is having a wonderful impact on the lives of Saint Louis youngsters. We came to have these realizations about The Bistro, and their outreach, and the tremendous support of both by local philanthropists, at about the time when Joe Turano and I began to look at each other and found ourselves falling more and more “in like” with the concept of a duo performing unit, as well as the Jarreau six piece band.

Late September seemed so far away when we made the booking. Suddenly, there it was. Just days away and too little rehearsing and playing of the duo repertoire… but there it was, opening night. I made my way to center stage, next to Joe and an grand piano and an electric keyboard. Dinner and drinks were being served and I was so close to the front tables, I could have helped myself to their wine! Almost nobody in the world has seen me in that setting. Over the two seventy five minute performances of the evening, we would talk about the beauty of that sort of intimacy. They got it.  Not all of the songs were brand new… “Better than Anything,” “Take 5,” “We Got By” are often in the regular band set.  But it’s quite a different listening experience when the performance is so simplistic and basic, as it is with the duo.

Over and over again, before this two nighter was through, folks were commenting, “Wow… what a personal experience… all those stories, Al… etc etc.” I could hardly talk with excitement, so I didn’t. You can be sure I was inhaling that wonderful reaction. I think we got something here, ladies and gentleman. Hello Fanny from Milwaukee and son. We grew up two blocks from each other. It was her first time hanging out with me like that.

Ok, everybody, I have to go home to Milwaukee for more gas, oil, lube, and a hug and a kiss! So watch out for the Al Jarreau Duo!!! Tis autumn.

-Al Jarreau

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Montreux – the master class

It doesn’t often work out this way, but this year I have been able to stick around for 2 more really great festival events. Big festivals, like Montreux, which run several days on several stages, will often present unique opportunities, like workshops with other musicians and the public, where an artist can really connect with people in a way that is very personal. Folks can ask questions about music and careers. Sometimes, there are even technique demonstrations. Festival goers really light up with an interest and an enthusiasm and an excitement that goes beyond hearing an artist play music for 75 minutes.

Yesterday was a beautiful afternoon, and we all got together in meeting room at the Montreux Palace Hotel, called Le Petite Palais. You should have heard all the accents on the english language, which were definitely not New York or Chicago. Well, there were questions and comments from some Americans. We had a moderator/radio presenter, Yvan Ischer. He is an amazing jazz buff historian who can tell you who played with whom in 1968, and who played with Diz. It got to be over the top! He is also a serious horn player. He lead our discussion, and the questions from him and the audience were wide ranging, and offered the opportunity for me and Joe Turano to talk about my (our) musical influences, variety of music, and its importance. the words and message that singers can choose from, hip hop and jazz, and even about my religious notions.

Wow, this is great stuff to do with an audience! From time to time, and from one interview to the next, I get a chance to talk about these things, but never with 200+ curious ears and eyes in the room with me. I love it, and so does Joe Turano. Even before this new “Al and Joe duo,” Joe would very often join me in these kinds of workshops and academy occasions (Thelonious Monk). He’s a great musician, and thinker, and has an important view point on lots of music topics. I’m loving this. We’re heading into new territory.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Montreux – the Duo concert

Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland

The last time I talked about Montreux was in the fall, when I was sitting, just about where I am now, and looking across the lake at the snow capped mountains, with the Miles Davis Performing Center Wing of the larger Stravinsky Hall exactly across the street. Last fall, I was invited to the first MJF academy, which invites exceptionally promising singers and musicians, from all the seven continents, to come and hang out with some working professionals, like me. There was indeed a wonderful cadre of excellent musicians and teachers on hand, to advise and give directions, to the writing and playing of that group of youngsters… and there were some great ones!

So here I sit, yesterday, and today, looking across at the mountain, with the glorious sun shining through the snow caps, and with the Montreux Jazz Festival in full swing. These days, the festival has grown to become like a family attraction theme park – except no rides. All the merchandise booths, especially having to do with jazz and its history of recordings. And of course, great shopping, for artisan goods and crafts.  And all the food vendors… what a selection!   I’ve been to this festival so many times, and it was a big part of my musical debut in Europe. Early successes in Montreux and Germany set the stage for my 40 year career here, with children and grandchildren of folks who saw me way back then. I guess that makes me a veteran. There is a more colorful description, but we’ll just go with veteran.

HOWEVER, only one other time had I appeared in Montreux with just myself and keyboard player, and that was Tom Canning. Now, Joe Turano and I have reprised this format, and we opened a new chapter for 98% of my audiences here and around the world. You know Joe. He’s played second keyboard in my touring band for more than 16 years, and he’s the musical director, arranger, background singer sharing duets with me, record producer, and soul mate from Milwaukee! We sometimes think the same thoughts at the same time. For so long, my working band has been me and five others. This new performing duo is more like a new chapter, or book, for almost everybody.

Joe and I have been hard at work in the wood shed, putting it all together.  We’ve got more “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross, but we’re already feeling the high potential that this intimate little duo has to offer.  The intimacy and pacing, with stories and background, is quite another thing. What a wonderful return to that the format of that first performance in Montreux. I could feel George Duke and a whole list of others, watching and listening, and smiling, too. I was awake last night, I couldn’t sleep at all (again)!

In the middle of our program, Alina Engibarayan, winner of the jazz vocalist competition, joined us on stage, and we became a three singers, one keyboard, and cabaca trio. Absolutely brand new stuff, and it rocked! “Agua de Bebe” and “Mas Que Nada”. The audience responded just as they had done to her earlier set, with the enthusiasm I had expected. She’s a special one. She has a traditional approach and an understanding of the roots of jazz, and of singing, and especially of vocal-instrumental soloing. She has put it in an avant-garde kind of musical setting that makes her rare on the planet. I’m going to go study with her! Sometimes, she manages to allow her sweet heartbeat and lovely soul to accompany all of this and give a kind of special attractiveness and appeal.

It’s been a really joyous to watch this evolution of Claude Nob’s baby. From one stage in a low ceiling, hot sweaty casino basement, to a convention hall with several performing rooms, and other venues around town.

Al Jarreau

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Szczecin, Poland

I couldn’t sleep at all last night! And I was tired from working all last week and then doing two long day rehearsals with Joseph Anthony. I should have slipped in a deep long sleep, but what was I doing? Almost walking in circles, nervous and excited, then laying down knowing, “Now I’ll go to sleep!” Nope! More walking in circles. And then a song came to me called Szczecin. I found so many wonderful words to rhyme with Szczecin Session, guessing’, confessin’, lesson… you get it. You try it. A couple more tries to go to sleep, and then it’s morning already. 11 o’clock AM, and time to get going for real. This will be the debut, sho’nuff for real, first concert for me and Joe Turano as a duo. I can’t believe how quickly it has come. It seemed like there was so much time to get ready.

Well, off we go, to sound check with Magdalena, from the Filharmonia Szczecin. She was so sweet and gracious. Now check this out, in walks Take 6. Whaaat!!! They will play tonight, in the same place, that we will play tomorrow. I should do a quick review of how unbelievable these meetings are with Take 6. I love them since 1984, when they were Alliance, at Oakwood College, in Huntsville, Alabama. Seminary school. My father sang in a quartet with Mark Kibble’s great grandfather. Claude McKnight, brother of Brian McKnight, is from the wonderful McKnight family in Buffalo, New York. My dad met their uncle, Bill, on a visit with his sister, my aunt, Edith. Uncle Bill and my Dad have to be the only two black guys in american who played musical saw. They jammed together during the forties, in Buffalo. What a connection. We hugged and had laughing smiling prayer together. That was amazing.

Now back to sounding checking with Joe Turano… I commented when we came in how weird it felt, not hearing the full band in the auditorium. Normally, there’s drums and bass and sometimes Larry playing flute, or Joe playing tenor. Today, all I can hear is Joe Turano’s keyboard. That’s really different, and a reminder of future times for me and Joe doing this duo show.

To start the evening, we’re using Brenda Russell’s “Jarreau.” And then, off we go for a big romp through “The Great City.” Great song. This program that Joe and I have put together, at the moment, will evolve to be a better and better balance of my own familiar recorded things, and brand new music, and special songs of other artists. I was so personally touched and impressed with this debut concert in Szczecin, my first time, also being my debut full concert performance by me and Joe. There’s something kind of exquisitely planned in heaven “coincidence” when you take a close look at it. This audience has been hearing my music on their radio and records for forty years, but tonight will be our first time appearing here live, and they will hear the first premier full performance of Jarreau Joe duo. Quite a test run.

Folks who know both situations would have commented how tiny and close and intimate this thousand seat auditorium felt. I even talked about learning about kielbasa and other polish sausage from Milwaukee, where I grew up with kids from high schools called Pulaski and Don Bosco and Kuziesko, where kids used to playfully used to call me “Jarreausky”. That’s what I call my son, Ryan, today. I hope I can continue to be as fun and inciteful as I was on this first night about what Joe and I hope to be to able to share with audiences. Somehow, it occurred to me that George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Harrison Ford don’t get the opportunity to do what we’re doing tonight. We’re touching hearts together, we’re thinking loving, kind thoughts about each other and the world, we’re clapping hands and having “church.” Except you can dance here! Thank you father, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Somehow, all of that came tumbling out of my mouth in just the right way. Wow.

We did versions of “Better than Anything”, and “Take 5”, and “My Old Friend”, which were familiar listens but sprinkled in some unheard things that I won’t mention now. I’m keeping it a surprise for you! Joe and I clasped hands on stage and exited to a standing O. Shewww! The promoter and his staff and house people and Magdalena were grinning and reassuring to me and Joe. We signed a bunch of CDs and programs in the lobby, and soaked it all in. I felt like a real Jarreausky. See you in Montreux!


Al Jarreausky

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

New York City

Town Hall, New York

Hello, hello!! 4 O’clock, the day after, and all is well. It happened again. A thousand times, I’ve talked about how any performer hopes and prays his night in Paris or Rome or Berlin or Amsterdam or New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles is a good and special one. It happened again. We had a good and special one in New York City, at Town Hall. Oh, yes, we had a town hall at Town Hall. Thank you father, thank you New York City.

And so here I am, the next afternoon, all grins and gratitude. And my gratitude list is growing, and includes the fact that right now I’m getting on an airplane to Poland.! I am so thankful for the long  list of good stuff in my life.

Now about Town Hall. What a fabulous venue. It’s warm and intimate, with a balcony, and around two thousand seats. Every seat within 30 yards. I commented to Joe Turano that they kept the lights at a dimmed ;eve; in the room so that I could have counted eyelashes of the people from the first row to the fifteenth row, and could see their jewelry and wristwatches almost three quarters of the way of these thirty yards. I could smell their perfume. This kind of intimacy makes for immediate fast flow communication that happens at the speed of thought. That’s faster than light! The person in the back immediately feels what the person in the front is feeling.

One of the first words out of my mouth was that Jon Hendricks is here tonight. Pound for pound, the greatest jazz singer on the planet, ever. He has the sweetest daughter named Aria, and she and Jon’s nephew, Eldrege, who I know from half note days from 1965 in San Francisco, both accompanied him. I’ve been studying Jon since 1958. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. I even had a vocal group in Ripon College, from 1958 to 1962, and we patterned ourselves after their work. We weren’t even close. And nobody gets close to what Jon Hendricks does. I commented proudly that he’s been knighted by the Queen and now stands with Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Winston Churchill, proudly representing jazz. He headed up a singing trio that sang jazz like horn players had been playing, with brilliant lyrics and glowing personalities, that immediately and immensely broadened the audience for jazz. This was an amazing feat that he accomplished. God bless you, Jon.

The band was on fire last night, as though we had played the last two previous nights, and we had not. Our sound check earlier that day was light and lively, and full of anticipation for the performance last night. Surprise, surprise! I looked up, and there was Bob Z., knocking on my dressing room door. How wonderful. We see each other only about 2-3 times a year. His wife Denise was with him, and we all three laughed and talked more excitedly than ever. We shared a big and wonderful undercurrent of giddiness about staying relevant and alive in today’s music industry.  Our set that night included a sort of historical walk through of my career, with most of the important pieces including “Mornin’,” and “Take Five.” It was so loose and joyful that evening, that we again popped in a version of Harry Belefonte’s “Day-o,” and closed out the night with George Duke and Al Jarreau’s “Roof Garden”. It had come and gone in a flash, and we were all laughing and grinning and hugging with energy and passion to spare.

 We could have done the whole evening again. We were fired up! We hung out with Jon after the show and did a lot of hugging, both of us wearing straw hats. I’ve never worn a straw hat on stage. Wow! Eldrige faithfully photographed everything, smiling and clicking away. He knew how special this moment was. I couldn’t stop hugging Jon and Aria. By the way, Jon has a daughter named Michelle, who can faithfully duplicate a lot of Jon’s scat singing. She performs and teaches. How fabulous and amazing. I got a chance to see Angel Rangelov, trombone player, composer, arranger, for Quincy and Sara, etc, who I met during the “L is For Lover” days, with Nile Rogers, in a studio, a few blocks from here. He’s from Bulgaria, and beautifully represents the impact and force of jazz as a bridge between cultures, some of them very closed in and either stifled or locked away. Somehow, they heard the voice of spirit and jazz, and escaped to freedom.

Speaking of that, A Bu was there! Who??? I said A Bu! He’s a sixteen year old japanese piano prodigy, with a surprisingly deep and mellow voice, that could be reciting some ancient wisdoms. We met at The Jazz Academy in Montreux, Switzerland, with a wonderful young crop of jazz musicians and singers, that truly are reassuring and give us hope. I signed some autographs on the way out, and silently said my thanks to the four walls and muses of Town Hall. It really was a town hall in the early days.

Now go hugyuself!


Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Cleveland, Ohio – Tri-C Jazz Festival

This is an amazing and wonderful jazz festival, that invites all of the premier jazzers in America (some from abroad), to come and perform on any of the six stages, composed of both outdoor and indoor venues, which happens over three or four days. This is in the real classic tradition of “the jazz festival”. We’ve become accustomed to the newer brand of festival that very often happens on one day, with eight or nine acts, appearing between eleven in the morning and ten at night. This is exhausting for an audience.

Even if you go no farther than this description, which also includes its thirty seven years in existence, you describe a pretty special kind of festival event. This is my third time here. This time  was to honor Tommy LiPuma, who’s from Cleveland, and celebrate his career as an extraordinary world class music entrepreneur, with credits that read like a phone book. His projects and artists describe who we are today musically, and the pathway that we took for getting here. You can even say Tommy and his colleagues’ form of music had an impact and an influence on who we are culturally, how we think, and what our attitudes are. Surely, we are the influence of people like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and the Beatles who studied them, and Herb Alpert and Moss, Bill Evans, Willy Nelson, Miles Davis, Dan Hicks, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Barbra Streisand. This music and its message and attitude and posture has impacted who we are socially and culturally. We walked like them, we talked like them, we thought like them, and even pretended to be them.

Tommy and Al Schmidt produced and engineered my “Look to the Rainbow” album, a live double album, from 1978, thought by many to be my best recorded work. That was almost 40 years ago. Wow! Well, I was with a stage full of people, who also had long and wonderful relationships with Tommy (Al, too!), and who sang and played his music, and laughed and told funny stories and choked back tears from time to time. During my segment on stage, I meant to thank his wife, Jill, who has taken such good care of him over the years. For all his brilliance and competence in the studio, anyone who knows Tommy knows that the same guy might be walking around with oatmeal on his tie or jacket and desperately be looking for his car keys. The beautiful thing is that he can laugh about that and still has the spirit and exuberance and excited eyes of a six year old. He can laugh about that. Jill has always been there by his side and sometimes clearing a path. Thank you, Jill.

And so, Leon Russell, Dr. John, Diana Krall, Ben Sidran, Christian McBride, Gerald Wilson, Terrance Blanchard, and I rehearsed the day before, along with John Clayton’s big band. Oh, what a band! One of two or three working big bands in America.

These occasions always have the feel of reunions with old friends, from college, or high school. You can see grown men huggin’ and kissin’ and cryin’ sitting around sharing war stories, sometimes called “laughin’ and lyin'”. Pat Rains, my first manager, and I just looked at each other, shakin’ our heads, with sh__ eatin’ grins, all the way back to our ears. Almost unable to talk. There are no words to describe it… the unfolding of the dreams that began so long ago.

One of the most unexpected surprises was Wendy Rains, knocking on my dressing room door, all smiles and giggles, just like she was when I saw her the last time, too long ago. Talk about a free spirit from another realm. We couldn’t’ stop yakking away.

I sang two songs that Tommy LiPuma produced on my album “Accentuate the Positive” album, that “none of you bought”, I said to the audience, and it’s true. Tommy and I thought we had done the long awaited true jazz project, with Al Jarreau singing some jazzy classics. I think we sold 23 copies, that’s the size the of my family and just a couple of immediate friends.  The third song we did was a request song from the festival, featuring the duo, me and Joe Turano. Joe and I jumped at it. And with two people, him playing and singing a couple of background lines, and me singing with an occasional click on the cabasa, we introduced ourselves with a great response to our first two thousand seater jazz audience. It worked. More to come about this new duo….

There are way too many people to thank, so I’ll pass on that. You know who you are, and I bow to you and say thanks.

Ok, I’ll see you in New York at Town Hall on Saturday or in Poland next week!

-Al Jarreau

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

1 2 3 4 38