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

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HSPVA & ROBERT MORGAN SCHOLARSHIP FUND CONCERT

http://docfestjazz.org

Al Jarreau has teamed with 3 of his longtime band members to create a special version concert appearance to be part of an evening of wonderful entertainment and goodwill on September 9.  The event, at Denney Theatre in Houston’s High School For The Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), will benefit the school and also a scholarship fund created to honor the school’s longtime teacher, Robert “Doc” Morgan.  The trio will be bassist Chris Walker (HSPVA alum), drummer Mark Simmons (HSPVA alum) and pianist Joe Turano (Al Jarreau’s music director), and the performance will include unique versions of some of Al’s favorites and classics.  The HSPVA student band will also perform that night.  Be sure to join everyone on September 9 to hear wonderful music and to support this very worthy cause.  Tickets and info are available by clicking here

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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

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Kansas City: American Jazz Walk of Fame Concert

Wow, I wish you had been there!  You’ve heard me say that before, and I mean it every time… but did I say that about singing in the rose garden for President Obama and family and administration on International Jazz Day a month ago? Well, I mean it.

Congressman Cleaver coined the term “somebodyness,” and it seems to refer especially to Kansas City’s efforts to acknowledge some special activities and achievements that came out of black communities. They opened the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and more recently the American Jazz Walk of Fame. There are so many recognizable names and faces of jazz greats, who either were born and lived in Kansas City, or who began their international careers in Kansas City. And, if you open this whole subject matter to include St Louis, Missouri, then the importance and impact of this community is huge. Look out, New Orleans! I was at the Baseball Museum’s opening, and now I’ve been a part of an induction ceremony this weekend.

I shared an evening’s performance with Ellis Marsalis and Queen Bey. The evening was electric. Everybody seemed plugged in, and in the verge of jumping out of their seats. They didn’t miss a lick, and Congressman Cleaver and Alcee Hastings with his classy and classic white suit, were right down in front, first ones to clap hands and dance. Sometimes, supercharged evenings like this are disappointing… maybe too much hype. Well, not this time! Everybody was in the zone. Athletes talk about the zone and go there all the time. I do, too. It happened in Kansas City. I sang the right things, I made the right comments, I pushed and pulled at the right time, and the band was smokin’, and right there with me!

An outstanding moment for me was when after several Jarreau pieces, R&B’ish and pop, we did our quiet, poignant version of one of the greatest jazz songs of all time – “The Midnight Sun.” We weren’t done, and went on to do “We’re in this Love Together,” and “Roof Garden.” What a night! They stood up and ovationed us. Thank you, Kansas City. It’s so wonderful to be with you again. A special thanks to the American Jazz Walk of Fame, Congressman Cleaver, Alcee Hastings, Gayle Holliday, and the JDRC. Let’s do it again.

Love

Al

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INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY – WASH DC

The first capital city for this celebration was Washington DC – Kennedy Center. The second was Instanbul. The third was Osaka. The fourth was Paris. The fifth was the White House, in Washington DC. This event, which celebrates jazz in more than one hundred and eighty cities on April 30 of each year, is presented by UNESCO and Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.  I’ll save all my ravings and cheers about the brilliance and beauty of this for another time… You can do it as well as I can. One result this year was a concert on the White House lawn, with the President and First Lady sitting in the first row, surrounded by various cabinet members, officials, supporters and other guests. President Obama made wonderful opening remarks about the bridge-building importance of jazz, and it’s peace making effects. And then with a twinkle in his eye, and a cool smile, he said, “Let’s do this thing,” and out came Aretha Franklin.

I won’t try to do a review of the concert event, but it was wonderful, and it featured Lee Ritenour, Terrence Blanchard, David Sanchez, Brian Blade, Pat Metheny, Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride, and Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, Sadao Watanabi, Esperanza Spalding. It also included soloists Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, DeeDee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Sting, and many more. Viewing the concert is a must if you’re interested in what really happened besides hearing the line up of guests, so please stream it at this site:  http://jazzday.com

InJoy it!

One of the beautiful aspects of International Jazz Day is the cooperation and collaboration between the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and UNESCO. The institute has jazz studies and programs for young people in institutions all around America. A few months ago, I helped judge a vocal competition held at UCLA. This is truly a great shot in the arm for young musicians and singers, and very obviously, for jazz itself. All forms of music struggle these days in the shadow of pop-ish forms, like hip hop, and “new country,” and teeny-bopper bubblegum. Many of us believe that jazz is the truly singular American art form. It was indeed born from slavery and poverty, that in its practice calls for great discipline, and for freedom of expression at the same time, and one that is deserving of its own special place in the history of music.

Every contemporary rocker from Eric Clapton, to Slash, to Prince, to Jimi Hendrix, is right in the tradition of Charlie Parker, Coletrain, and Diz, when they find their nightly freedom and solo. In Ken Burns’ History of Jazz Series, he points out that while the faculty members of our scholarly institutions of music, based in their European tradition, were scratching their Freud-like beards, and pondering the question of, “what shall be the American contribution to music history,” it was happening all around them in work songs, street corners, church pews, all produced by these dark skinned people, in a struggle for freedom and dignity. It lives today, shouting the story around the world, of freedom and dignity, self expression, and joy, On Saturday morning, we invited the general public to The Kennedy Center for a wonderful mini concert of music from the T-Monk institute band from UCLA, with DeeDee Bridgewater, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and me. Dormeshia was the highlight of the event for me. Tap dancers these days are a rare breed, and she was truly part of the contemporary tradition. Her elegance and creativity were like jazz drumming, horn playing, and soloing. Daniel Seeff, from the Monk Institute, moderated a lively discussion with the audience and the band and me and DeeDee and Dormeshia, that touched on some very interesting topics and subject matters, including the joys of artistic creation. This was a wonderful part of the 2016 international jazz day for me. I still don’t believe that I was at the White House for two days. I’ll be a while sorting that out for a while…  Great memories! Thank you, President Obama and First Lady Michelle. I loved being there with you, everyone else in attendance, and everyone on all the personnel teams who worked to make this possible.

-Al

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I scat, you scat, Muscat

This country and city are at the southern end of the Persian Gulf and part of the larger Arabian Peninsula. We don’t get to this part of the world very often.  I’ve been in this region probably six or eight times over the years.   These are countries where you quickly become aware of a difference in dress, but these days, I think the whole world is relatively accustomed and comfortable with many kinds of international apparels.

The folks who greeted us were accustomed to hosting international guests, with perfect english and an accommodating welcome. They made getting through Immigration so quick and easy, that it was remarkable. It was a long day’s travel, nearly 24 hours, so we were all very glad to get to bed. The following day, we did some press, which turned out to be fun and humorous. The journalists spoke english – one was British – and we laughed and joked about being British, and not!

The performance venue was the Royal Muscat Opera House, which was modern and simple in structure. Lots of straight lines and right angles and arch shaped windows, but with a little flare of ornate filigree and chandeliers. The performance area had a huge back stage for storing and building operatic sets. Remarkably big. The audience had cushioned seats and four balconies. I could reach out and touch the first row… every time this proximity occurs, you find yourself remarking, and sometimes out loud to the audience, “how wonderful it is to be so close to you!” They get it, too, when that’s happening.

Here lately, in the last several years, I’ve been commenting on our getting to perform for new audiences who  are first timers with me and the band. Even at home, in America, we’re meeting new people, and LOVING IT! And so, when that also happens abroad, it’s really a treat because the response is so enthusiastic and fresh.  But you would have been amazed how they sang along on Nitaku (I will be here for you), and “We’re in This Love Together,” and other very spontaneous phrases that I asked them to sing.

When we finished, they were on their feet and showed a lot of love to the whole band as we went down front. Chris was a big hit, as usual., and they screamed loud for Mark, and Joe and John and Larry, when I introduced them. We all exited and Larry and I came back with a nice surprise… Summer Time. They were on their feet and danced during Roof Garden. It seems like they’d like us to return soon, and so would I! Thank you, Oman.

-Al

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