Al Jarreau has been around for longer than he would probably care to remember – his first albums were released in the early 1970’s, and with his fifth Grammy nomination for the recent album Accentuate The Positive, he still holds the unique record of being the only singer ever to have won Best Vocalist Grammys in three categories – jazz, R&B and pop.
It’s a long way from his early childhood days in Milwaukee, where four-year-old Jarreau, the son of a minister/foundry worker, first harmonized with his brothers and started performing solo at local events – little could he imagine that one day he would actually be inducted into the Wisconsin Performing Artist Hall of Fame.
Surprisingly, music wasn’t the major force in his life when he was young. At school he excelled in sports, and although he sang with a group called The Indigos when he was studying at Ripon College, his still studied hard to earn a Bachelor Of Science degree in Psychology. Then, after earning a Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation from the University of Iowa, he moved to San Francisco to begin a career in counseling – and it was here that fate intervened, and took Al off on a different musical path.
He found himself performing at a small jazz club with a trio headed by George Duke, and by the late 60’s, his mind was made up that music was going to be his life, so he moved to Los Angeles and started out singing at famous nightspots such as Dino’s, the Troubador and the Bitter End West. Television appearances soon followed, and he teamed with guitarist Julio Martinez to “spell” up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler and others at the famous comedy venue, The Improv.
After serving his time in the California jazz scene he was spotted by Warner Brothers Records talent scouts, and his debut album We Got By (1975) exploded him onto the music scene. The following year he released Glow to similar acclaim, and the critics and fans alike were truly wild for Al. His first world tour followed and the double live album of the tour – Look To The Rainbow – bought him his first Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
Throughout the eighties the albums kept hitting home, and the million-selling Breakin’ Away finally brought him to a wider audience, winning him two more Grammy’s for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist in the process. Already orbiting around superstar status, Jarreau now became a worldwide sensation with his theme song for the enormously popular Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd TV series, Moonlighting.
Into the 90’s, and Jarreau was still hungry to test himself – whilst on a break from yet another tour, he accepted a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical Grease, and fans finally could take the best of Al home with them, as The Best of Al Jarreau was released. Moving ever onwards and upwards into the new millennium, Jarreau was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and when Brenda Russell wrote and recorded a song titled “Jarreau” the honor amongst his peers had almost bought his career full circle.
Fittingly, the current album Accentuate The Positive mixes the old and the new, as he lends his silky vocals to a selection of songs – some standards, some new compositions of his own – as Jarreau himself explains:
“We recorded live in the studio with a quartet. There were no string arrangements, no background arrangements, background vocals or overdubsÃ¢Â?Â¦ in effect what we did was to select some classic standards, some jazz standards and added two original pieces. We allowed those classic compositions to lead us to new but simple arrangements of themselves. I sang more differently than ever!”