Jarreau, Al

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
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A self-described 'hybrid' musician, Pop/R&B/Jazz legend Al Jarreau talks about the intense process to find the authentic spiritual fulfillment in creating truly powerful music, capable of lasting a lifetime.

DM) People have described your music as "excessively passionate." How do you describe it then?

AJ) My music covers Pop and R&B and Jazz--and I couldn't let any of them go, so I have to stand up for those all of the time. More often, it's been people who swear I'm a jazz singer and won't allow me to sing my R&B and pop music; but the fact is that I do all three, and they're very precious and near and dear to me as a singer, and they've become this hybrid because of they're filtering through this "Al Jarreau" screen. But my music is also shot through with Pop and R&B as well. That's probably the longer description, though.

DM) You say, "Put through the filter of Al Jarreau." What is common through all of those types of music when you perform them?

AJ) Well, they've got to excite me with several different things. I need something compelling in the music statement without lyrics, and what the song does. It's how the note and chord come together to make an
emotional statement. Songs do that and have done that for thousands of years...as long as man started beating on drums. Music has moved the emotions. It's got to say something to me. It's got to stir me with the feeling in the song; and if it does that, then it's well down the road. And if I add a lyric to that, then you got a real good start to peaking my interest. If it's got something rhythmic going on, that may be the thrill in itself.

I fell in love with the rhythms of the counterpunctal rhythms of Brazilian music in the 1960s and 1970s. We had a version of Salsa--which we called Cubano or Latin music--we had a version of that. I didn't detect in it the sensibilities that I found in Brazilian music. It has so many shades and so many different things, with an emphasis with my kind of stuff, as with the chord changes and melodies. Sophisticated stuff. To rival the greatest music ever written in the world in terms of chord changes put with melodies... bar none...Maybe one of the best examples of one kind of music that had a bunch of stuff that was attractive to me. That's a long answer, but maybe you can get some kind of notion that attracts me to a song.
DM) When it comes to music, what strikes you the first: the music of the lyrics?

AJ) Songs like "We're in this love together" are not strung on musical statements, but are on this wonderful little rhythm thing going on. "Roof Garden," for example, is this simple melody and lyric, but it has a rhythm going on. Then there is, "Morning." I think the lyrics there are special lyrics. I spent a lot of time crafting the lyrics. Now that's got a great combination to a lot of things with a lyric that's very poignant. You can dance if you want to, or you can go to Church. That's Church, man...coming right out of your speakers, and that's important for me to do.

DM) Is your singing spiritual for you, too?

AJ) Yes, very spiritual. I feel strongly about that aspect of my work. I feel I need to say things to people that 98% of the time is uplifting stuff. Sometimes it's inspirational; sometimes it's educational...uplifting stuff that hopefully restores your faith.

DM) What do you listen to for a "pick me up?"

AJ) If I hit the button on my radio, right now it's tuned to the classical station. I listen to a lot less music than you would think. In my car is a classical station, and I just turn it on and find it so powerful. It kind of clears the palette and cleans the slate. It brings me back to ground zero and calms me down. My mind is topsy-turvy, and music every day when I'm doing the work, so I purposely don't listen sometimes. Silence is golden stuff to me. I can listen to my blood course. It clears me out, and I'm ready to work on new music again.

DM) Do you ever find it's draining for you to sing with the passion and spirituality you do?

AJ) Yes, it's emotionally draining. Working inside of my body and doing what I ask from myself and the musicians, it's very draining stuff. Especially on tour, and performing in that situation. Very draining, but I can tell you, it's the wellspring of life as well.

DM) What do you mean by that?

AJ) It is the fountain of youth. It is the greatest joy there is in the world. And when it's working, which is most of the time, the peak is refreshing. Your body gets tired, but you come off stage and look in the eyes of seven other guys who were on stage with you making the music, and those eyes are filled with a kind of light and a joy. They're filled with such happiness. And when it's working, the audience feels it, too, and that, man, is Church. Call it what you want to: Church or Nirvana or high or intoxication. It's something human beings have available to them, and you should get there when you can.

 

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