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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