Friday, February 10, 2006
Al Jarreau Interview - Tamar Alexia Fleishman
Singer Al Jarreau has been wowing audiences for over five decades. As a toddler growing up in Milwaukee, he sang with his brothers at various public events. However, as a young man, Jarreau set aside his show business ambitions, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at Ripon College and a Master's Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation at the University of Iowa. Jarreau then began a career in Vocational Rehab, but singing still pulled at his heartstrings. He sang jazz at a local nightclub before pulling up stakes and moving to Los Angeles. There, he finally got serious about his musical career.
Soon, he was singing on the West Coast and appearing on all of the great 70's talks shows on the East Coast: Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, David Frost and Mike Douglas. He also served as the warm up act for many comics, including John Belushi, David Brenner and Bette Midler.
Jarreau started recording in 1975; his debut album, "We Got By," received a German Grammy. Two albums and years later, he won his first American Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for "Look to the Rainbow." In 1978, "All Fly Home" netted him a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. The Grammy's kept rolling in with the '80's "Breakin' Away" for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist. He was nominated for a Grammy for the catchy theme to the show "Moonlighting," as well as for Best R&B album for "Heart's Horizon." In 1992, Jarreau received his fifth Grammy award for "Heaven and Earth", in the field of Best R & B Vocal Performance.
When he's not recording even more award-winning albums or touring, Al Jarreau still keeps plenty busy: he completed a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical Grease. He has also appeared on New York Undercover, Touched By An Angel and a national McDonald's commercial.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LATEST PROJECTS.
I have a wonderful record that's 18 months old. I did it with my very first producer and engineer. We got back together to do my first real jazz project. It's called "Accentuate the Positive." People have always thought of me as a jazz singer, but the real truth is that all my records are R & B/pop with undertones and overtones of jazz. I put together a quartet of piano, bass, drums and guitar.
YOU QUICKLY WON GRAMMYS WITH YOUR FIRST ALBUMS. HOW DO YOU KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING?
I suppose that over the years, all of us are in it for the work. You do it with all of your heart. Maybe that attracts people, the love of the craft. I do okay, even during these times and days where the artist isn't especially encouraged to do artistic things. I refuse to go away! There are more rewards now to those who seem to fit in a mold. It has nothing to do with art and fine art.
DID WINNING THE GRAMMYS CHANGE THE CLOUT YOU HAD IN DEALING WITH RECORD COMPANIES?
I think there's an impact, having acclaim from other artists and professional colleagues. But it's hard to measure. I don't think the record companies are especially moved to deal across the table.
YOU HAVE EXCELLED IN MANY STYLES OF MUSIC AND YOUR FANS DID NOT ABANDON YOU. WHEN WILLIE NELSON RECORDED A BLUES ALBUM, HE COULDN'T EVEN GET A RECORDING CONTRACT. HOW DID YOU AVOID THAT FATE?
My R & B and pop songs are seasoned with a jazzy approach. I haven't really stretched my audience in ways they may not expect. But my new record has hardly gotten a nod. It's hard for me to understand. It's not selling the numbers I expected. It may turn triple-platinum, several years down the road, but I'm very disappointed. This album should appeal to people (even) outside my audience: the jazz purists and the people who go for instrumental jazz. It's a great record!
A PERSON'S VOICE IS A DELICATE INSTRUMENT. HOW DO YOU PRESERVE IT?
Basically, stay healthy. Eschew bad habits, not sing too much. It sounds absurd, but it's the truth! Being a fine singer does not fit in the lifestyle of singing 5 nights a week for an hour and a half to two hours, living on a bus, getting very little sleep. But that's what we all have to do.
YOU'VE PARTICIPATED IN LIVE INTERNET CHATS, TELL ME ABOUT THAT.
It's a great thing when you can get it organized. When we did it through my own web site, announcing it 3 or 4 weeks ahead of time, we missed the boat. When the record company did the publicity for an Internet chat, it worked.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR VERIZON LITERACY CHAMPION AWARD?
As a nation, we're really slipping. The statistics are appalling. 48% of Americans read below the 6th grade level. They can't read maps or prescriptions or fill out a job application with accuracy. We raise money for books, computers and even training volunteers.
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO?
You'd be surprised! I find myself loving the sound of silence. I need that space for my own work. Sometimes, I'll turn on the classical station in hotel rooms. But we are bombarded by commercial, "buy this product" music. We're just hammered. I need a break! I'm saturated and so are you. People need a break so they don't buy unimportant, superfluous, garbage music. Very few people can find music that touches them anymore. http://www.aljarreau.com