Montreux – the Duo concert

Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland

The last time I talked about Montreux was in the fall, when I was sitting, just about where I am now, and looking across the lake at the snow capped mountains, with the Miles Davis Performing Center Wing of the larger Stravinsky Hall exactly across the street. Last fall, I was invited to the first MJF academy, which invites exceptionally promising singers and musicians, from all the seven continents, to come and hang out with some working professionals, like me. There was indeed a wonderful cadre of excellent musicians and teachers on hand, to advise and give directions, to the writing and playing of that group of youngsters… and there were some great ones!

So here I sit, yesterday, and today, looking across at the mountain, with the glorious sun shining through the snow caps, and with the Montreux Jazz Festival in full swing. These days, the festival has grown to become like a family attraction theme park – except no rides. All the merchandise booths, especially having to do with jazz and its history of recordings. And of course, great shopping, for artisan goods and crafts.  And all the food vendors… what a selection!   I’ve been to this festival so many times, and it was a big part of my musical debut in Europe. Early successes in Montreux and Germany set the stage for my 40 year career here, with children and grandchildren of folks who saw me way back then. I guess that makes me a veteran. There is a more colorful description, but we’ll just go with veteran.

HOWEVER, only one other time had I appeared in Montreux with just myself and keyboard player, and that was Tom Canning. Now, Joe Turano and I have reprised this format, and we opened a new chapter for 98% of my audiences here and around the world. You know Joe. He’s played second keyboard in my touring band for more than 16 years, and he’s the musical director, arranger, background singer sharing duets with me, record producer, and soul mate from Milwaukee! We sometimes think the same thoughts at the same time. For so long, my working band has been me and five others. This new performing duo is more like a new chapter, or book, for almost everybody.

Joe and I have been hard at work in the wood shed, putting it all together.  We’ve got more “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross, but we’re already feeling the high potential that this intimate little duo has to offer.  The intimacy and pacing, with stories and background, is quite another thing. What a wonderful return to that the format of that first performance in Montreux. I could feel George Duke and a whole list of others, watching and listening, and smiling, too. I was awake last night, I couldn’t sleep at all (again)!

In the middle of our program, Alina Engibarayan, winner of the jazz vocalist competition, joined us on stage, and we became a three singers, one keyboard, and cabaca trio. Absolutely brand new stuff, and it rocked! “Agua de Bebe” and “Mas Que Nada”. The audience responded just as they had done to her earlier set, with the enthusiasm I had expected. She’s a special one. She has a traditional approach and an understanding of the roots of jazz, and of singing, and especially of vocal-instrumental soloing. She has put it in an avant-garde kind of musical setting that makes her rare on the planet. I’m going to go study with her! Sometimes, she manages to allow her sweet heartbeat and lovely soul to accompany all of this and give a kind of special attractiveness and appeal.

It’s been a really joyous to watch this evolution of Claude Nob’s baby. From one stage in a low ceiling, hot sweaty casino basement, to a convention hall with several performing rooms, and other venues around town.

Al Jarreau

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