London, and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, February 2014

Great Russell Street and Bloomsbury Street form an intersection just outside my window, that I saw every morning when I woke up and had my coffee. I’d do light warm-up scales and look at people walking into a currency exchange on one corner, and on the other corner a restaurant, but most of the people were walking to and from the British Museum, with its great broad paved terrace just a hundred yards away down Great Russell.

Nothing hectic here. It’s calm and casual with an occasional group of 15 or 20 school kids and a teacher leading the way and keeping “order”. This was a great way to start the day as I got ready to do a wonderful return to Ronnie Scott’s, where I first met my London and Great Britain audience, in 1977. I indeed have returned a couple of other times. In fact, the last time being just a year and a half ago, during the summer Olympics.

Surprise, surprise. This new occasion had all of us surprised and delighted with this quick return. As it turns out, there is a whole flock of London horn players who found inspiration in the sound of the Seawind Horns: Larry Williams, Jerry Hey, Kim Hutchcroft, Gary Grant and Bill Reichenbach. Tom Walsh, a London trumpet player in his early 20s, is one of those players, and he came up with the concept of performing the entire 1983 Jarreau album from top to bottom. They approached Ronnie Scott’s and pointed out that this album featured some of the great horn arrangements ever written. Tom got in touch with Larry Williams and Jerry Hey, and asked Larry if he would be interested in playing keys as part of the project. The idea was, Larry would fly to London, rehearse with the band, and play keys while a local singer sang down the album.

Well, of course, Larry is not only a founding member of Seawind, but he’s also the longest-standing member of my band. And when he heard about the local singer, he said, “Well hey, I know a pretty good singer.” And he asked me. And off I went to London to sing at Ronnie Scott’s and “to visit the Queen”.

We did three nights with two sets each night, and it was great fun to remind everybody that when they listened to Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, they were also listening to Larry Williams and Seawind Horns. And some of the greatest moments of Earth, Wind, and Fire happened because of these horn players.

I’ve sung at Wembley Arena with 10,000 people watching, and the Royal Albert Hall with 5, the Apollo, and Hyde Park. But this occasion at Ronnie’s was a wonderful peak of my London career, thus far. You could almost call it a return home, with lots of these people present for both my first visit in the 70s, and this most recent visit.

“The Whole Album: Top to Bottom!” That was the approach that we would take, and how this date was advertised. And I had to do some real serious studying of some very exacting vocals. Some songs, I had never even gotten to perform, since the day they were recorded in the studio. All of that study and preparation was wonderful and eye-opening, even if a bit daunting.

When those horn licks are being played right in your ear as you sing, you become super-conscious, as does the audience, of where these Selmer-made horns made the music become all that it was and is.

I’m certain that the most striking and outstanding characteristics and features about this occasion were the hearing and watching in a really intimate setting some songs that were real familiar, and incidentally being able to read the time on my watch, and hear me inhale, and then in a normal and totally audible tone, say, “Great solo,” to the guitarist. And you could experience it that way from anyplace in the room. Sooooooo, you can imagine the quiet intimacy of “Not Like This” and “Waltz for Debbie” or “Midnight Sun,” when the horns were silent.

Oh yes, and the “Right in your face” experience included peering down the throats and hearing the ushering sounds of two background singers. They were fantastic! A lady named Annabel Williams who was a beautiful taller than I am white chick. And a guy Tommy Blaize- he was going to sing my parts before they enlisted me to show up! They were really wonderful. I could see people’s eyes dart back and forth from me to them and back to me.

I’ve been doing symphony orchestra programs for 15 years, giving an expanded musical experience, which is quite rare for audiences. A similar form of that happened when we did the Metropole Orchestra performances and album. Another similar is the NDR (Nord Deutsche Rundfunk) Big Band/Al Jarreau Experience, which features Gershwin highlights. And now, there’s this wonderful new wrinkle: a Horn Band listen to the 1983 Jarreau album. And this one in itself is totally different from all the rest. I dream of taking it to a number of different UK locations. And why not Chicago and New Orleans?

Great Russell and Bloomsbury Streets, and Ronnie Scott’s on Frith Street… Thank you for one of the special trips of my life.

See you next time!

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