It has been a trying summer for Al Jarreau.
After all, the jazz-pop vocalist was hospitalized with a heart ailment last month in France that had some media outlets reporting his imminent death. Those rumors proved unfounded, thank goodness, but Jarreau did cancel a few dates before returning to the road.
That tour brings him Friday to the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. It should be a momentous evening on a number of fronts – the singer’s health scare, his return to the Bay Area he knows so well and the fact he’s sharing the stage with George Duke.
When I interviewed Jarreau a decade ago, he didn’t mince words when it came to describing the influence Duke has had on his career. Jarreau moved to San Francisco from his native Wisconsin in the mid-‘60s and among his first gigs was singing with a Duke-led trio at the city’s Half Note.
”I grew as an artist because of George, because of that situation at the Half Note,” Jarreau said. “It allowed me to spread my wings as a young vocalist and really evolve.
”At the time, I was struggling mightily with my day job as a rehab counselor. I thought I had a very fine across-the-desk manner and relationship with whom we were helping but it was just too big a caseload. I was on my way out the door. I was just not good at it.”
Those difficulties, combined with the success he was enjoying with Duke, convinced Jarreau to pursue music full time beginning in 1968. He moved to Los Angeles, played nightspots like the Troubadour, got the occasional TV shot and, finally, signed with Warner Bros. in 1975.
Jarreau found immediate critical success and in the latter part of the ‘7s took home two Grammy Awards for best jazz vocal. By the early ‘80s, he was in a position to score some crossover attention, first with the album “This Time” and then the singles “We’re In This Love Together,” “Mornin’” and the theme to television’s “Moonlighting.”
The pop success may have disillusioned his jazz base but Jarreau takes that “jazz-pop vocalist” label seriously. In our interview, his expressed his deepest regret over his inability to sustain that wave.
”I was on top 40 radio and my feeling today is that I never laid a glove on them,” he said. “I haven’t touched pop radio the way I want, the way I think the potential is there for.
”There’s a large group of us who are trying to do some music that’s above the belt line. You’ve got to use your mind. You’ve got to hear the music and the music asks you to listen to the lyrics.
”It’s difficult to get that music exposed. If you don’t have green hair a foot long and a ring through your eyebrow and your bottom lip … you don’t get any notice. I jus think that the music has a broad-based kind of potential appeal that it’s never actualized. This music can reach people and touch people and bring them to be fans.”
That said, Jarreau is certainly doing all right these days in the popularity department and, after this summer’s health scare, we can assume both he and his fans will be particularly thankful Friday in Saratoga.
”I think I’m one of the most thankful people I know,” Jarreau told me. “I know how to say ‘thank you’ to the Muses and the powers and to God for still having a career in this thing. I still enjoy this and I’m still growing and making better music each day.”
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