Marciac, France

I’ve been looking forward to this return since our first visit here in 2011, when Dianne Reeves was on the bill. That first trip into this French countryside has such a special place in my heart, so I did not want to risk muddling those memories and feelings. Last time I saw fields of sunflowers looking like an elevated golden carpet. Then a barn wall 40 feet tall and 60 feet wide that had a painting of Le Petit Prince, a very famous children’s book from many years ago written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. For adults, really. Jon Hendricks summarized, “And now I know the whole world is filled with roses. One rose alone is mine.”

Bernard Dulau, my long-time promoter and friend, is here and rides with us to soundcheck and we look at each other and laugh and smile and chuckle as we both remember the two of us in the late 1970s. He was a tall, skinny kid working for Francis Dreyfus, my very first French promoter. He presented me to this loyal French audience first in a dance club/restaurant Elysée Matignon, a Yannick Noah hangout with lots of young international fashion models. Oh, it was deep. And from there to Salle Pleyel with Manhattan Transfer. And then on and on and on in France, including Bercy and The Olympia.

Bernard grew into a wonderful young promoter in his own rite taking care of Marcus Miller, and David Sanborn, and a whole bunch of international jazz people. When we arrived, he introduced me to a French journalist and writer born in Benin named Farrah. I could feel her heart immediately.   She’s a serious jazzer and continuously points toward whatever contribution I’ve made there. She was good friends with the late great Claude Nougaro, and still visits with Claude’s wife. She says they spent hours listening to Al Jarreau. Claude was something quite special. He managed to bring serious French poetry to jazz and jazzers to French Poetry / philosophy. That’s huge. It would be like Robert Frost bringing poetry scholars to jazz and serious jazzers finding Robert Frost. He and I did some television together way back when. Farrah says something very special is planned in memory of Claude in a couple years, and I say, “I’ll be there!”

Time for soundcheck! We head for the stage with a chorus of “Bon Jour!” “Bon Jour!” all around. We’re here and happy and grateful, no attitude. The tent is about 50 yards wide, 150 yards long, pitched center and all white. It feels like an improvised church. We quickly reviewed the things we wanted to remember for tonight, then go and relax until our 11pm start. Curtis Stigers opens for us, along with his band playing an acoustic quartet approach. Curtis sings real good, controlled and unpretentious. He’s a beautiful listen for anyone, and he runs the gamut from the interesting and unknown to the well-known. I told him we should do this again.

Larry and I begin with a gentle approach. I really love the thank you to the audience that is suggested in “Your Song.” They’ve been hearing my version of that for 36 years. It began our friendship. They lean in closer as the evening goes along. After that, we’re sockin’ ‘em one moment then huggin’ ‘em the next. I can hear the unspoken, “Oh, they’re gonna do Spain!” as Calderon leads them along with acoustic flamenco. I can hear somebody in the back of my head saying, “That’s right, Al. Take ‘em on a journey.” At some point down toward the end there, I even said to them in a loud voice, “Everything. Of course. Everything.” Everything I’ve got, they got it.

So, Waltz For Debby and Summertime show up. The jazzers out there now are nodding their heads up and down in affirmative. We’re running the gamut and so we come back out and do After All. They applaud and yell vocal shouts at the start of After All. A Cappella Puddit, and Boogie Down, and the night is near saturation. It’s time to go home. Everybody comes down front, and we stand arms over each others’ shoulders, and face the audience in thanks and love, and we take a deep bow.

As we leave the stage, guests and staff are quietly grinning and smiling with controlled excitement. My big mouth says a loud, “Thank you, merci!” and then I notice a square-ish area on the ground that’s around 7 feet by 5 feet, and there’s a lady asking me to sign it, please (in French). Only then do I notice that it is an oil painting on canvas, and it’s modernistic with enough realism in it to recognize, “That’s me!” And, “There’s Joe with his goatee. And there’s John with his guitar! And there’s Chris! There’s Larry! There’s Mark!” You have to look for a moment to realize, we are all there. It’s a great piece of work, and it’s going to be sold at auction for charity. The artist says she manages to do one of these for every night of the festival. I am impressed.

Young Bernard Dulau is matching me step for step now, and grinning like a proud papa. This is his baby. The whole association is magical. Riding back to the hotel, he’s quietly smiling. The air crackles with electricity. We’re gonna do this again.

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