Iowa City – 2014

Iowa City – 2014

This commentary begins one of the most wonderful and amazing concert events that I’ve ever had in my life. So many things have come to confluence here that even “big mouth” Al Jarreau will have a hard time explaining in these next paragraphs the wonder and awe and magic of it all. This is rare.

It’s about HOMECOMING.

I pray you understand the sweetness of that. If you do than you’re with me. Only Milwaukee and Ripon, Wisconsin can compare to this flood of emotions. I studied rehabilitation counseling here at the University of Iowa…ready to work as I eventually would in 1965 in San Francisco (the beginning of the Al and George Duke days at the Half Note). While I was here I buried my head in books and stacks at the library and sang two nights a week at the Tender Trap in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That is, I was anything but a “man about campus”. In fact, as we moved about town on this trip, I mentioned to our driver that because of this restricted resistance and all of the new building on campus and in town, I almost didn’t recognize anything. I could not find Clinton St! And when we finally passed it, I can still here me saying, “Oh wow, there it is! And that’s where those two brothers had a shoe repair and shoe shine business.”

So rare…we spent two days here and it was crammed full of campus activities all centered about a returning alumnus with some celebrity in his life. Wow! They were proud of me. This is Iowa, not Los Angeles on the campus of UCLA around the corner from Hollywood. This is not NYU or Berklee in New York City just around the corner from Broadway and every record company in the world, or even New Orleans with several universities there that graduated dozens of people with big careers in music. No, this is Iowa, with small towns and sweet and gentle hardworking folk who still wonder about all the world’s eyes being on them and their Iowa Caucus.

On the day before the concert we met with some music students at the University in the education department (my old home) and had a wonderful discussion and Q/A about music. I found my head buzzing and worrying with urgency to do this more often. I was amazed and struck with the positive conclusions they had come to about the existing state of affairs in the world of music. While on the other hand, I am and many like me are constantly bemoaning the loss of this and that aspect of the industry. These young and bright-eyed people are accepting it as it is and celebrating this new technology, including social networking, and use it to begin a new venture and career in music. It made me check myself and say, “Wake up, Al.” As I sit here talking about it, I’m pining for more with that particular group of kids and for more similar situations.

What else? Three weeks ago I did a phone interview with Ben Kieffer of Iowa Public Radio. Now that’s good stuff. We had a great chat about all the particulars you can imagine (especially my career and the George Duke record). While in Iowa City, Ben and I sat with about 100 faculty, students, and local residents and basically did another version of his radio interview and opened the whole business up with questions from the audience for the majority of the time.

There she was. Since the time this date appeared on my calendar, I had been thinking about beautiful Byford Wheeler from Milwaukee with two sisters, Neesha and Joan, who at that time lived one and a half blocks from my house where I spent my childhood. Sister Joan often escorted me to kindergarten and first grade…wow. Beautiful Byford was now faculty alum with tenure. 12 years ago, she proudly welcomed me to my first homecoming and performance on campus at Hancher Auditorium. She said she would be there. My mind is still reeling.

After the lovely discussion we went downstairs for a quick reception with all the guests. I had to leave quickly to do a short interview with an on-campus radio station before finally ending the day. Are you huffin’ and puffin’ yet??? Let’s go sit with Byford Wheeler in the lobby bar and talk about “old times” for a while.

The African American faculty invited me to hang out with them at a quick meet and greet before the concert. It was short but powerful as it always is when people remind you of your important place in their lives. This gets heightened significance for me because of this particular community of people. I love schools and educators and teachers because I am certain they are the right hand of God like doctors and other healers.

So bang, flash, boom…here we are on stage and the first words out of my mouth are, “Yo, Hawkeyes on three. 1…2…3…HAWKEYES!!” As I hope you can imagine, that was an awesome kick off for a concert that was destined to be a great one. We couldn’t lose. There were 5,000 screaming people in one of the best performing circumstances possible. Bellies pressed to the front of the stage laughing and grinning and singing along. I won’t describe again this favorite venue situation that I have so many times before. But the fact that it was happening here in Iowa at a homecoming concert will always be one of those “great incredibles” in my life. And the band was as on fire as the audience.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, everybody.

See you next time!


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