By now, many of you know that Alwin Lopez Jarreau, better known as Al Jarreau, passed away on Sunday at the age of 76. Just in the last week, he announced that he was retiring from touring; the news was reported on the same day that Aretha Franklin announced the very same thing.
It’s really easy, and totally accurate, to say that there wasn’t anyone who sounded like Al Jarreau. He was idiosyncratic, in the best way. When you heard his voice, it could only be him. He brought scat singing, made famous by many but most notably by Jon Hendricks, to the forefront in genres not known for it: specifically R&B and pop music. If there is one singular claim you can associate with Jarreau, it is that he is the only person to win Grammy awards in the jazz, R&B and pop genres.
Like many, his album Breakin’ Away with it’s popular song “We’re In This Love Together” was my first real experience with his voice. For those of you that have followed me for a good while now, you know I always make mention of a cousin who introduced me to so many artists via his LP collection. When he got Breakin’ Away, it stayed on the turntable often. What other album can you get a pop song like “We’re In This Love Together,” along with a version of the standard “Teach Me Tonight,” and a vocalized take of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”? Not many, and that doesn’t even include his funky, scat-filled, instrument marking turn in “Roof Garden.” Because of that versatility, that gifted artist was nominated for Album Of The Year at the Grammys.
Like it was for many artists for me, I went back and began listening to his older stuff. Breakin’ Away was actually his sixth album for Warner Brothers Records. The label signed him in 1975 at the age of 35. From those early albums, he began building an audience, first in jazz, where by his third album, Look To The Rainbow, he earned his first Grammy award of the seven he would eventually win.
As the decades wore on, the releases would slow down a bit, but he was constantly giving audiences around the world what they wanted: that unique vocal style that thrilled audiences: singing songs straight, imitating saxophones and guitars, using his voice as a percussion instrument and scatting his way around and through songs.
Much like when George Duke (one of his frequent collaborators, and a friend of Jarreau’s from back in the 1960s) passed away, I’ll miss seeing an Al Jarreau release on the horizon. But I have a lot of his music to keep in my memory. Below, I’m going to post quite a few of my favorites by the great vocalist. Rest in peace, Mr. Jarreau. Tell that heavenly choir to make room for one of the most versatile, gifted and unique vocalists that I’ve ever had a chance to witness.
Did I say a few? Maybe I got carried away. Funny thing is, I’ve left out a bunch more songs I could have posted.
So long, Al.