Hello, everyone, and welcome to my page, where I can share with you all the goings on with me, as we travel around and bring the music to the people! Keep Listening!
Love, Al Munich, Germany – 2015 Guten Morgen! We’re in the car to the airport and leaving town again. Are you out of breath? Maybe a little bit dizzy? Well I am, and there are five other band members, 2 sound guys, and an organizing manager who are really puffin’ hard. What a bunch of sissy’s J. Just kidding! Well the truth is that there are some young bands who will go out on much longer tours and who will party even harder than they work. I never could do that. Something suffers. Well we’ll be home soon. We just finished a wonderful night in Munich at the Bayerisch Hof Hotel (one of my favorite hotels in the world, along with the Pfister in Milwaukee). And believe it or not, Ingrid Volgard, the owner, has jumped in headfirst and decided to continue some jazz aspects of what was a bigger festival called “Sin-clavier Sommer” that was sponsored by the city. This is an unprecedented move and I can’t even imagine the detail of this undertaking…a private hotel doing six days of jazz. I shouted her name all night long and reminded everybody on how important this was. My musical history in this city almost mirrors the important details of my career on the continent. Right now, you can see me in a red shirt on YouTube performing “Take Five” from 1977 and that would have been the period when I sang my first date in Munich at a little tiny club called the Spectacle (about 110 people). This was the time when people in Hamburg and people at the Berlin jazz festival were raving about this crazy American singer doing so many wild things with his voice. All of this was apart of a small explosion for me that opened up the rest of Europe from Oslo to Naples. And so I take the joyful opportunity to keep reminding these sons and daughters and nephews of those first audiences that we have something special together. This performance space in the hotel was surely no doubt designed as a ballroom where Munich dignitaries and socialites gathered for very special occasions. But it was as if though the nymphs and muses spoke to the architect while they were sleeping and influenced the design so that it’s a perfect place for doing music with double balconies and railings that are beautifully carved and ornately painted in gold-like stuff, and the whole deal makes you feel like, “wow this is amazing!” And there they are in the front row with their knees almost touching the stage…so close that they can walk away with Larry’s flute. This is a great way to experience music, live and in your face. And it’s so loose and comfortable that it’s like we’re in a living room drinking wine in front of a fireplace. It’s fabulous that this is so obvious and is felt and sensed by everyone there. It’s as though you’ve been cut off from the rest of the world and things seem to go in slow motion, almost silent. They sang great on the choruses and inhaled some great solo playing from guys in the band. Also, we’ve been showcasing some new material on this tour and they’ve added a final punctuation of “Yes, record that!”. This was an intermission evening and even though we planned it to be equal halves, the second half went way longer than we anticipated. But it was wonderful and beautiful and all smiles, and lots of gratitude for a wonderful tour. One more time I pined for taking advantage of such an intimate setting and the casual hanging out with guests and audience. That’s fun stuff. That’s it for now. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks in Maine. For now I’m going home to be with my Babay, Ryan and Jen, the dogs, and my own bathroom. Wooo-wee! Love, Al
Munich, Germany – 2015
- posted ON 07.29.15 AT 01:18 PM
Munich, Germany – 2015
Guten Morgen! We’re in the car to the airport and leaving town again. Are you out of breath? Maybe a little bit dizzy? Well I am, and there are five other band members, 2 sound guys, and an organizing manager who are really puffin’ hard. What a bunch of sissy’s J. Just kidding!
Well the truth is that there are some young bands who will go out on much longer tours and who will party even harder than they work. I never could do that. Something suffers. Well we’ll be home soon. We just finished a wonderful night in Munich at the Bayerisch Hof Hotel (one of my favorite hotels in the world, along with the Pfister in Milwaukee). And believe it or not, Ingrid Volgard, the owner, has jumped in headfirst and decided to continue some jazz aspects of what was a bigger festival called “Sin-clavier Sommer” that was sponsored by the city. This is an unprecedented move and I can’t even imagine the detail of this undertaking…a private hotel doing six days of jazz. I shouted her name all night long and reminded everybody on how important this was.
My musical history in this city almost mirrors the important details of my career on the continent. Right now, you can see me in a red shirt on YouTube performing “Take Five” from 1977 and that would have been the period when I sang my first date in Munich at a little tiny club called the Spectacle (about 110 people). This was the time when people in Hamburg and people at the Berlin jazz festival were raving about this crazy American singer doing so many wild things with his voice. All of this was apart of a small explosion for me that opened up the rest of Europe from Oslo to Naples. And so I take the joyful opportunity to keep reminding these sons and daughters and nephews of those first audiences that we have something special together.
This performance space in the hotel was surely no doubt designed as a ballroom where Munich dignitaries and socialites gathered for very special occasions. But it was as if though the nymphs and muses spoke to the architect while they were sleeping and influenced the design so that it’s a perfect place for doing music with double balconies and railings that are beautifully carved and ornately painted in gold-like stuff, and the whole deal makes you feel like, “wow this is amazing!” And there they are in the front row with their knees almost touching the stage…so close that they can walk away with Larry’s flute. This is a great way to experience music, live and in your face. And it’s so loose and comfortable that it’s like we’re in a living room drinking wine in front of a fireplace. It’s fabulous that this is so obvious and is felt and sensed by everyone there. It’s as though you’ve been cut off from the rest of the world and things seem to go in slow motion, almost silent.
They sang great on the choruses and inhaled some great solo playing from guys in the band. Also, we’ve been showcasing some new material on this tour and they’ve added a final punctuation of “Yes, record that!”. This was an intermission evening and even though we planned it to be equal halves, the second half went way longer than we anticipated. But it was wonderful and beautiful and all smiles, and lots of gratitude for a wonderful tour. One more time I pined for taking advantage of such an intimate setting and the casual hanging out with guests and audience. That’s fun stuff.
That’s it for now. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks in Maine. For now I’m going home to be with my Babay, Ryan and Jen, the dogs, and my own bathroom. Wooo-wee!
St. Moritz, Switzerland – 2015
St. Moritz. Dracula Club. We’ve played here one other time before…only once. But this venue and location is so rare that you find yourself thinking about it a lot. At the moment, we’re descending back down the Alps here in Switzerland and we’re looking at unbelievable mountain ranges and evidences of geology that is mind blowing. One changing visual after another. It’s dizzying.
Ok let’s get back to the Dracula Club. The guys who organized this club were part of an Olympic bobsledding team who continued to bobsled long after competitions. But the unbelievably wild thing is that they found a way to bobsled at night, especially late at night. And somehow, the term “Dracula” came into play. Amazingly they were serious jazz lovers and did the almost unthinkable thing of building a restaurant/club/performing venue. It’s cramped and tiny but that’s the magic. People sitting on the floor close enough to reach out and touch them. I don’t know another club like it in the world. There’s even a balcony in this room that is about 20 yards square.
You just don’t forget this. The people love the music and they’re super precious about this setting. And they are right.
As a performer, it’s a lead pipe cinch in this setting. So, once again, when our outfit took the “stage” (that’s right—same level as the people) and gave it to ‘em the same way we do at the Hollywood Bowl with all the bells and whistles, you make “friends” real fast and they ask you back. We were here 24 months ago, but now we’re back with a new program of music and the surprise and near astonishment is real visible. Huge grins with eyes darting back and forth from one soloist to another in the band. They were singing along a lot and I love it because it never interrupts the serious soloing and playing of the band but rather brings them in and makes them performers themselves (with us). Somehow this is happening on this tour more than ever before. It’s got me grinning right now.
We’re popping and sparking and Mark has them astonished. They are so very close to this kind of intensity with its “right now” improvisational freshness. A balcony in a place this small is so unique as to make you think of the coziness of a loft. Where are the pajamas and potato chips?!?
We did a little more than an hour and a half but could have played all night long. They were yelling for more! Christian and the other club personnel were laughing and grinning…and so were we. When we left, I was surprised to see the rain. There had been a pretty good little downpour and I immediately thought, “They came out anyway.”
As we were leaving I had this little tugging regret that I couldn’t do the most natural thing in the world in this situation, which is to stay and hang out with the people in this restaurant/bar. That’s what I used to do. But these days my legs and back don’t like that so I head back to the hotel and enjoy the thunder and rain in my room.
As I said earlier, we’re descending down this glorious mountain with little villages and I keep thinking somebody’s going to pinch me and I’m going to wake up from this amazing dream. This doesn’t happen to kids from Milwaukee from the other side of the tracks. I was just talking to my sister, Rose Marie, about all of that just yesterday.
Well, we’re going to do this one more time on this tour in Munich tomorrow. Then we’ll go home. Thank you, God! This was wonderful!
Mainz, Germany – 2015
I’ve been here before several times and the last time was two years ago. But I always forget and it’s right on the River Rheine. And this time, we’ll play a new venue for me from a boat that IS literally docked on the Rheine and will play to people on the shore. That’s another new one. When I woke up that morning and looked out my hotel window, the venue was visible from a far off audience standpoint. A broad, flat terrace leading from the front of the hotel to cement stairs that went right down to the shoreline. The audience was looking at the stage and performers on a boat with the River Rheine flowing past…and I do mean flowing! You could see ripples as it urgently moved along. No stagnant stream here.
All of this put the first row of seated audience people about 40 yards from the stage, and as per my previous discussions about distances to the first row, I wasn’t happy. But all of the audience seemed to be accustomed to that and they received our messages from the stage really loud and clear and responded in a way that gave us high certainty.
The opening act, Leona Berlin, was a quintet of students from University of Mainz who highlighted the audience with their young, jazzy program (later they all came to say hello and we talked about me coming to hang out with them at their music school sometime in the future).
I and everybody were so glad for a cool and overcast day. In a certain respect, there was no way to lose tonight.
Once again I’m struck with the obvious results of the long, long relationship I have with this audience and their mothers and uncles. You may remember that sometimes I describe this as being almost as though I was a young neighborhood kid that emerged onto the music scene from some local town who did well at home and went off to the rest of Europe with their best wishes. They feel to be part of that little success story. And I feel it too.
After a couple of encores, I was quietly whispering to myself, “Thank God”. This is the part of the tour where my throat is glad for any little break it can get.
So off we go back down the stairs to my great little dressing room with a grey haired, rosy checked attendant/guard who could have been the real life model for the little old sausage maker cartoon. He was shy and a little nervous about my American over-exuberance. By the end of the night he was smiling and had warmed up. He helped me with the German word for “fly”. Flurgen. That’s what happened that night. We flew!
Now it’s off to Switzerland! See you there.
Dusseldorf, Germany – 2015
This venue and type of venue was a first for me and I’m glad that the “Unique Moniques” were there to pay witness. They’ve seen me inside, outside, in concert halls with 15,000 people at North Sea, etc., etc. But never at a planetarium! Well, converted planetarium that still has the dome ceiling against which the Milky Way would be projected with all its stars and planets. I’m not sure when the conversion took place but it was well done. A domed ceiling like that could easily have been just a monstrous reflection of uncontrollable sound that bounces everywhere like being in an oil drum. Not so here. It was great! It made for a quite sizable performance space. From front to back it was about 50 yards and its diameter from side-to-side was about 75 yards. It had a balcony that was almost wrap around and the dome ceiling was painted and lit in such a way that you almost had a sky-like effect left over its planetarium use.
I was so aware of the uniqueness of this venue and the fact that the “Unique Moniques” were here to see me and this band knock it out of the park—Grand Slam! These old friends know about the new “me” and my challenges new challenges. And so, to have a hot night like we had that was so satisfying for me and the band, it was great to share with folks who know.
Before we played the first note, the audience was giving me and the band a standing ovation. WOW! It just gets better from there. They even allowed me to play with the name of their town, saying silly things like “three-seldorf”, “four-seldorf”, “whos-eldorf”, and “what-seldorf”. And then in the next moment we would be totally serious about the music.
Bam! Amazing! Right there in the front row were two sisters who’ve been coming since they were teenagers from Berlin. I almost jumped off the stage and hugged them. They brought me another stuffed teddy bear (the mascot of Berlin). I’m sure I have 8 or 10 bears like that—usually smaller—about 3 inches tall at home in my office.
The whole night followed this pattern of give and take and we-ism that is ideal and dreamlike for performing. The mood and the feeling mounts and multiplies on itself, and by the end of the night, everyone’s feeling as though they have been abducted and transported and really seeing the Milky Way and the stars like this old planetarium was meant to do. Along the way we played lots of standards from my book and seasoned that collection with several new pieces that brought grins and nodding heads.
Mark Simmons has caught fire these days and found yet a new level of drumming that’s bringing people to their feet mid performance. Just generally speaking, there’s nothing like several weeks on tour to get everybody sharper and in tune and connected with each other. We nod our head about that.
We’ve taken a couple seasons off from regular performances of “Spain” but it was so obvious, even in sound check today, that John’s acoustic guitar would ring so beautifully in this room and be heard like it seldom gets to be heard. And so when he plucks the first notes that suggest the Spanish mode of “Spain” there is immediate applause, without us even playing the signature melodies and lines. When we do, they clap four to the measure—almost Flamenco-like—and then Larry solos his butt off.
Everything is wonderful! We end up doing four encores…and they would have stayed for more. We know that backstage there’s a room full of guests so we beg off and they let us exit.
Backstage, we’re all almost jumping up and down like little kids with a popsicle. And there’s Carol and Garol! When I asked about their kids, they say, “Oh yea, wonderful! 19 and 21 now and doing great.” Blows my mind, but it fits right with what I so often mention directly to audiences these days that I’m looking at people who first saw me when they were teens and pre-teens and now their kids are coming with kids. What a gift from God. What a blessing! I’m the luckiest guy in the world. What an occupation!
Just as we were leaving, downstairs at the exit door, a husband and wife—both in wheelchairs—just took my breath away. They had come to see me play and waited around for at least an hour. They were determined to not leave until they said hello and I signed an autograph for them. He was paraplegic with good upper body control, but she had much less mobility. It hit me like a lighting bolt. Wow! He’s taking care of her. He’s her caregiver…full time. I hugged them as hard as I could and did autographs and knew even then it was too little. And then we did autographs for 15 other people who were waiting outside the backstage entrance.
Ok, enough for now. I got to hurry to Mainz. We’re on stage in 18 hours. On a boat J.
Torino, Italy – 2015
Dramatically speaking, this date on the summer tour calendar was as distant as Pluto. I guess I said that before. Well here we are on a return visit with just a few more miles to go as we are closing out the summer tour, which had so many question marks surrounding it—mainly having to do with my new back. The answer in short is that I’m finding a new Al Jarreau who is less physically busy on stage but has found another door open up that has gotten me inside the music in a new and special way. I’m hearing and seeing things that I had not before!
It’s hotter than blue blazes here in the city, but here comes cool, sweet Roberta to welcome us back to Torino…to one of those “new in the world” Italian performing venues that’s part of a shopping mall. They’re taking the music to the people. That’s a brilliant concept. That particular iPhone/Blackberry/Shopping crazy audience has been slipping away because we somehow don’t get to them in their gathering place. This will be a serious situation for the new artist to deal with.
I have to say that Italy as much as any country has kept quite good focus on traditional musical concepts and ways of performing. Puccini, Verde, Pavarotti, and Caruso will always be at the top of their charts (and for me, Cecilia Bartoli—a rising star). So for them to have accepted and enjoyed my music since the first record in 1975 is quite a compliment.
The outdoor cabins backstage are small but comfortable and cool. And cool…I’ll say it twice! We start at 10:00pm and are thankful for sundown. And, wow, I’m stunned that this place has the feel of a permanent outdoor music amphitheater. And there’s 2,500 people out there…sold out. Thank you, God. And they’re immediately singing, “I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words…”. And then they’re right into singing “I need somebody” from “Black and Blues”. Pretty hip sing-a-long. I love it. These simple little sing-a-long phrases are interspersed with some very serious instrumental stuff. And the reaction to a new song called “Great City” has been wonderful every time. It’s like Jimmy Smith’s organ meets the Count Bassie band and Joe Williams. Stompin’.
When it’s comfortable sometimes I meander in my thoughts on stage and this one was one to remember. I meandered into the comment “what a wonderful pope we have these days.” He cares about poor people and all who need help. He was just in South America doing that. And further more, this IS our responsibility to each other. Lots of heads nodding up and down. No standing ovation but I think they got it. That will be one of my favorite meanderings.
We made a few changes in the program that bring back a couple more well known Jarreau standards that gets smiles of recognition. Pretty soon we’re doing “Boogie Down” and “Roof Garden” and saying good night…. They jump on my first “day-o”, almost inaudible like an afterthought. Then I pick it up and continue and somewhere Harry Belafonte’s going, “What?!”.
I stopped and signed a few autographs before getting on the bus, and just like when we left the stage, everyone is all smiles, grinning and chuckling and laughing with real delight about a wonderful evening.
Off to Germany we go!
Antibes, France – 2015
Here I am starring out the window again…daydreaming. I’m singing my vocal warm-ups, viewing my “gratitude thank you’s” again, and soon Sam and I will repack the few things we took out of my bag for this 2 and a half hour stay in the hotel. The venue is right on the beach and we play with our backs to the Mediterranean Sea. You could throw a baseball into the water and a light covering of sand is everywhere under your feet as you move along this semi-permanent structures of the festival backstage. Last night Lionel Richie kicked the butt here and even did a small choir version of “We are the World” (he, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones wrote that song). The poster also announced that other nights’ headliners would include Marcus Miller, Chick Corea and Herbie, and Carlos Santana.
Our left over energy from Montreux spurs us into this new day that would have us on stage before sun down. It was like a matinee. And I can tell ya, folks, that that is great stuff to be able to see the audience as the sun sets. Right in the front row is a young man with dark hair and dark glasses on who was throwing his head back and forth like rockers in AC/DC. It was delightful! I had to point to him and talk to him, and there were lots of folks in his general vicinity who saw this uninhibited joy and enthusiasm. And about 4 rows behind him were four teenage girls. Tres jolie (pretty as can be)! They danced in their seats, too, and when I pointed them out, they giggled and hugged each other.
There was seating at ground level, and bleachers behind that, and also a standing area on the sides and surrounding the venue that was probably free. And these people really shouted and waved and danced with enthusiasm, as is often the case that the really serious fans cannot “purchase” a ticket early perhaps because they are younger or pressed for cash but willing to stand outside the barriers—just so happy to be there! They dance all night long with every opportunity they get to groove hard. Sometimes you sing and play to them.
Our promoter, who has hired us for lots of dates with us over the years, in the South of France introduced us to begin the concert, and came back on stage with the mayor (AMAZING) after our last song to present me with a special framed poster honoring my many years with this festival. I should be prepared for moments like this but I always stumble around trying to find something appropriate to say and this time managed to give a special thanks to France and the south of France for keeping this music alive. Thank you Jean-Rene!
Eldred Ellis for the Half Note Club is here. Fantastic! He just saw John Hendricks, 93 years old, in two or three different venues in NYC in the last six months and will visit John’s daughter, Michelle, in Paris this weekend. Michelle is carrying on her dad’s tradition and is an extraordinary jazz singer—seasoned, polished, and burnin’. I send my love.
A month ago, this point in the tour seemed as far away as Pluto. And now here we are with five concerts left. We’ve had some aches and pains (I’m not the only one), but we’ve pushed right on through rediscovering our purpose and ourselves again.
See you in hot Torino!
Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland – 2015
Bonjour, Buon Giorno, and Guten Tag…that’s all I can say. Montreux speaks all three languages and they come from all three of those different countries. Germany, Italy, and France have nearby cities with people who dearly love this festival. I say it every time and I’ll say it again. The ride into town out of the Alps down to Lake Geneva is breath taking. In many places you’re looking 30 miles across the lake at mountains in the distance that must be 100 miles away and then, in either direction, even farther (because Lake Geneva is a long one). You watch all of this unfold as you settle down to lake level for 45 min. Amazing. This has been happening to yours truly, a kid from Milwaukee, for 39 years…a kid from Milwaukee!
So many people who became life long friends of my music heard me and Tom Canning as a duo in 1976. We were supposed to rehearse and play with a really well known band, but one of their principles got sick and it didn’t happen, even though it had been announced. The longtime producer of the festival (and my dear friend) Claude Nobs, loved to tell that story every time he introduced me on stage over the years. Of course the concluding remark was that Al and Tom went on as a duo and killed. Me and my cabaca thumpin’ on the mic stand base with my foot making a bass drum sound and doing what we had done (actually for 3 years before this occasion—at the Blah Blah Café in San Fernando Valley over the hills in Hollywood) getting into a high level of performing. It worked! This audience has grown steadily and so has my band and performances over the years, and here we go again.
In the last few years, I’ve been honored to serve on the jury of the festival’s vocalist competitions, and this year I was the president of that panel. Wow! And I was blown away by the competition. My band director and arranger and music producer, Joe Turano, joined me on the panel. God, I love Joe. He’s so smart, such an accomplished musician (keyboards and 3 saxophones), sings his ass off, and knows the also important history, Jazz and other. We had a ball. We heard ten semi-finalists on Wednesday and selected 3 finalists who sing again on Thursday for first, second, and third prizes. Then later that evening the band and I performed in the new Montreux Jazz Club in Stravinsky Hall.
We had a great night on stage with a fabulous audience that cheered us on and stood up calling for encores. And we all were thrilled about coming to Montreux again. This is a mecca! But right now I can tell you I’m having a difficult time saying that all of the above might have topped by the vocal competition. During 13 individual performances over two days my waning faith in the jazz singing vernacular got a serious boost in being restored. I was amazed at this group of young people (mostly in their 20s) from all over the world who had developed a serious love for this “jazzy” way of singing. There were so many of them with the tools and abilities and interests to become world-class performers. I’ve been judging singing competitions for years and have never seen anything this great. In the end, first prize went to Alina Engibaryan from Russia, second prize went to Vuyo Sotashe from South Africa, and third prize wen to Yumi Ito from America.
Of course and to my delight the band continues to rise to the occasion and perform our new program exquisitely and with joy and enthusiasm. They have had to deal with a new lead singer, almost. Since the surgery in October I myself have had to deal with a new singer. But I’m finding me and I’m okay with it. So it was a great day for me and the band on stage
Last year’s winner of the vocal competition, Alita Moses, opened for us and then walked on and surprised everyone by singing “Summertime” with me. What a great pick and what a great singer! She is fashion model gorgeous, and she sings with a wonderful across-the-board understanding of where jazz meets R&B and pop and sings Brazilian music with the best of us. She’s got it!
I spoke for a moment about the competition. I don’t want to go on and on, but I fell in love with our panel of judges. Along with Joe Turano were Carine Zuber, Joe Farmer, and Wendy Oxenhorn (I sang the ever popular “Wendy” to her). Before it was all over we felt like family. I never witnessed such caring, compassion, and concern for this group of singers. At some point or another they all ended up with tears in their eyes. It was amazing and I hope we can do it again next year!
If I left anything out, please excuse me. It’s time to drive to Antibes in the Côte d’Azur. We’re on stage at 8:30pm the next day after a 9-hour bus ride. See you there!
Oslo, Norway – 2015
So all of a sudden there I was in the middle of the set talking about getting lost while jogging in Oslo in 1977, my first time in Norway. We played Club 7. It came up just a suddenly as this mention here and now. The rest of the story is that it was snowing, I got lost, and I was out for more than an hour and a half until I got a cab ride back and lived to tell the tale last night.
Our promoter, Peter, has done it again. Just like he did in Copenhagen, he found another great place in Norway. It was a big club-like arrangement but with seating this time coming right up to the stage.
Everybody appreciates this cooler weather that we’ve come into up north here in Europe, including Lubeck and Kiel. I still sweated like LeBron, though.
Friends of Larry come to sound check and hang out and talk about a project of theirs on which Larry did some soloing…on tenor sax as well as keyboard. Yea, Larry plays tenor sax real good! And flute! There were three of them and they all play keyboards. One of these guys is a schoolteacher and we immediately start talking about my coming to do some sort of residency for a couple of days. That would be great!
It’s an early start so I get to my dressing room and start warming it up and gearing it up and revving it up. The band has been so good during this summer’s string of dates that the new “worry” is how to sustain that and keep the fire with everybody on point. So we all visualize and picture it and remind ourselves as we go to stage…and it happened again last night. We try to construct some built in pacing to the show that risings and falls in energy and quietness. And here we go…they’re singing along in the chorus.
I don’t believe it! Directly in front of me, center of the audience, are four men. I don’t remember this ever happening in my life. Guys looking like football players! Those seats are almost always occupied by couples or women…girls’ night out. So it made me sing with some different nuances. Cool! A little more intensity is a good thing. Real early on they were placing photographs and album covers on the deck in front of me to sign. Old friends! Who knew?! Pretty soon the whole front of the stage was covered with items to sign. This was wonderful! What a great different kind of perspective to influence and inspire what we did on stage. I know the band sees this and reacts to it just like I do.
We’re affected by them being so close. We’re affected by each other. When the music is slow and funky like the chorus in “My Old Friend” their heads move and accentuate the beat just like they do in that bar on the south side of Chicago. There’s a lady moving her blonde head just like a sista. And our new song, “The Great City”, is kickin’ ass—Bassie style.
Silje is here tonight and I yelled for her. She’s a wonderful, young Norwegian Jazz singer who invited me to sing on her record in 2001, a song called “We should be happier by now” (well we are). Her daughter, who was a baby then, for years has called me “Al Zshashow”. All of sudden there’s Silje with flowers at the front of the stage and pointing to the balcony and I can actually see someone frantically waving their arms at me and squealing.
You must make and take a moment for times like this. It changes everything as an experience for you and your audience. They all heard a million singers with a million songs but they’ll never forget that night when Silje and her daughter were there. They even tolerated me and Sijle struggling our way through an impromptu version of “Teach Me Tonight”.
Mark was explosive again, finding those new moments to really solo. When Larry and Joe stop playing keyboards and pick up their flute or tenor sax it’s really an astonishing and eye-opening moment.
Well things go on and on like this and pretty soon we’ve done almost a half hour more than we should have but the audience is ok. It’s a big satisfying feeling. I should have done a bunch of autographs but we had guests waiting backstage so I’ll say “so long” for now.
See you in Montreux!
Copenhagen, Denmark – 2015
Copenhagen! Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen! Definitely international and cosmopolitan. It’s bustling and busy with shoppers and stores and people on the go, including tourists who are easily recognizable. BUT. There is no sense of hurried crowded nervousness, and things are as “cool” as their winter snows.
Wow! What an amazing rock club venue that our promoter, Peter found. You know it immediately. It shouts at you, “We’re here to have fun. Let’s sing and dance and let’s rock.” It’s industrial looking with silver air duct decorations. These people will come here with their chests pressed against the stage, shoulder to shoulder, and back to belly immediately absorbing the energy from stage and quick mixing it with their own electric excitement.
That was the story all night long from the time me and Larry walked on and started our quiet “Your Song” duo. They sure sang along. The guys played a fan fare, which announces that pretty soon it’s going to get busy. Hands inside the car and hold on to your hats! And away we go with them almost leading the way and screaming, “I need somebody”.
The main floor holds about 1,000 standing people and there’s a balcony that holds about 400 more. It’s loose and fun and you can tell the band loves it. Internal phrases and solos and subtle snap endings are appreciated and they get it. Mark is killin’ them. This situation is so conducive to loving and appreciating some great drumming. Hot licks and explosive kicks! At the end of one of our fiery songs, Mark stands up at his set up and yells, “I’m Mark!” They go crazy!
Once again, this is the kind of interaction with the audience that was permeated the entire night. When that happens musicians on stage end up playing at a new and heightened level of their abilities and virtuosities. The audience brings that out of them. This exchange is touchable to the sense, and sure enough we rise to a new level. A common reaction is, “God, you guys really played with inspiration.” Well, the audience did too.
The whole story about “Moonlighting” and Cybill Shepherd and the UNKNOWN actor, Bruce Willis, is surprising and interesting. It’s so easy to sit here today and think Bruce Willis was always a huge star J.
Pretty soon after we’ve mixed a few more tempos, including a very serious ballad, we go charging home. They’re singing real loud, “And all I need is to get my Boogie Down!” Well, this audience isn’t even thinking about going home. They’re on their feet and screaming and we know that we’re going to be here awhile. I probably should not have even taken the walk.
So here we go with “Day-O” and “Roof Garden” back to back. “Day-O”! We’re singing Harry Belafonte’s banana boat song and, boy, are their eyes wide open and lit up. This is truly unheard of. Then we party hard with everyone dancing to “Roof Garden”. Hands up in the air and hips bumping and swaying. We leave but immediately realize that we can’t. We ignored some other possibilites and went with “Mas Que Nada”. Yay!!! That was a real win for the audience and us.
And we really are trying hard to leave now so I do one more big bow on the far left side of the stage balancing on Mark’s shoulder and pretty soon Mark and I are trading vocal percussion solos. He’s wonderful at this! Everyone is screaming and caught by surprise and now we really are through and they are satisfied.
We say thanks to Peter, and I take a short walk to the bus and head for another midnight sun destination.
Oslo, we’re coming for ya, baby!
Lubeck, Germany – 2015
Arrivederci, Roma! (That’s a song). We got on a flight to Munich and then connected to Hamburg. How truly interesting! I had just spoken to some press person and promoter about first timing in Rome and singing a little improv jingle Christmas Greeting over the radio. That song is on my first and only Christmas record (2008) titled “My Christmas Tree”. And so now, going to Hamburg, the birth of my career on the continent, just after being in Rome really does trigger some flashbacks and visions of yesterday. And I start daydreaming and starring out the window again.
We operated from Hamburg as home base for concerts in two cities that are conveniently close. I came here just after the release of “We Got By” (my first record) and played a little club called Uncle Po for about a week. That booking was a really big success with great local reviews and within 6 months I was at the Berlin Jazz festival…then Paris and Rome and the rest of Europe. And so it was wonderfully trippy to talk with lots of people after the Lubeck show who had been at Uncle Po in 1976. What’s really amazing is when they show up with their kids who are 18 or 19 years old (just about the age that the mom or dad was when they heard me first).
I searched back through my memory and concluded, and I think I’m right, that I had never played in Lubeck before. So I’m really glad to be meeting a new audience with new faces. Toddy from our promoter’s office assured me that we did not go there with the NDR Big Band and Joe Sample three years ago. This date is part of a concert series called Schleswig-Holstein that includes a show in Copenhagen. All of this has been going on for 20 or so years and I never knew. Well never mind! I’m glad I know now and we’ll make some new friends at perhaps what is the most wonderful and possible time in my life, when I’ll meet some jazzers/pop/R&B people for the first time and will seriously broaden my audience.
We arrive at a serious concert venue which is real classical symphony-ish. No wings so to speak. Just a great broad stage that would hold a one hundred piece orchestra with a back wall that very often has a pipe organ (exposed pipes—but not today). My manager sets us up so that we’re really close to the first row, and if there had been an orchestra conductor, he would have been standing where I was at center stage close to the front row. I can reach out and touch ‘em. There’s a double wrap-around balcony and we’re sold out, and I think to myself, “twenty years of jazz festivals with a lot of serious music being played.” I HOPE THEY’RE NOT TOO SERIOUS TO HAVE FUN!!!
A short introduction from Christian, and I make the walk from the side doors of the stage with Larry. The two of us are conspicuously alone as Larry starts the piano introduction for “Your Song”. No smash ‘em bash ‘em beginning here. Just stark and simple and inviting!?!
A good choice for tonight. They even sing some improvised loo’s and lah’s with me and Larry during the intro. The finish of this opening song goes seamlessly into a fan fare, which kind of announces the arrival of something important and pretty soon we’re bouncing along to the beat and melody of “Mornin”. And they’re recognizing it and into it.
And there she is, center seat of the first row with a black and white pattern dress, and she’s with her friend. Her name is Silvie and they are going to have fun tonight come hell or high water. They truly were wonderful. Their openness and energy was infectious—not only for the rest of the audience but for the band, and me too. At home they might be quietly listening to Train or Bird, but tonight they’re gonna rock in their seat and stomp their feet.
It’s really popping and sparking on all eight when we start improvising new little pieces of music that start with me stating a rhythmic pattern and an improvised bass line, and pretty soon everybody in the band finds their niche and we cook for a minute. When we abruptly stop in the middle of a phrase, it becomes apparent that what we just did was made up on the spot.
Early on Mark Simmons gets right in their face with some serious drumming that you got to react to if you love Billy Cobham or Ringo Starr. As we move along in our program, they got to hear Larry Williams stop playing keyboards and pick up his silver flute then go back to the keyboards and play a solo just after John Calderon had lifted them up with an acoustic guitar solo flashing between Julian Breeme and John McLaughlin.
You could see their heads nod up and down as I talked about the importance of George Duke and my tribute record to him, “My Old Friend”. The lyric is so appropriate. “Great City”….A new song in our repertoire and never recorded yet. It’s poppin’, blues-y and Bassie-ish and immediately gets them clapping their hands. We go quick and slow with samba and a ballad and into an old standby closer, “Boogie Down”, and triple encores. They’re all standing up and applauding and some are yelling and screaming. How satisfying!
Backstage, the band and I were laughing and grinning with each other. High 5’s implied. There’s a big smile on Christian’s face which itself implies that we got to do this again next year.
Man I was tired! …But happy. I get to do this again tomorrow.
Kiel, Germany – 2015
And before you know it, with too little sleep, it’s tomorrow and we’re driving to sound check. I’m so glad Sam brought some good strong coffee! I’m actually feeling pretty good.
Now I have played Kiel before, but please don’t ask me when. Lubeck and Kiel and Hamburg are in Northern Germany up by the North Sea. And thank God it’s cooler and a little cloudy. I’m ready for this. France and Italy were boiling!
We arrive, and my manager is telling me about this matron of the festival named Birgit who is friendly and infectiously happy and joyful. He was right! Here she comes and she took over with one delightful quip and remembrance after another and I pretty soon realize that she was one of the festival’s founders along with her friend (a classical pianist) who had this vision of a music festival.
I sat on a stool at center stage and told some familiar stories about those early beginnings. I even remembered to introduce Birgit to the audience (she was around ten rows back in the middle). “She’s an originator of the festival”. If you were observing and watching closely you’d have felt the whole evening take off on a tangent angle that made things different now. Well, I’ve never pointed to a festival organizer and asked them to stand. Deep intake of breath…refreshing.
In the front row, there’s a pretty 16-year-old girl named Judith who is waving her pen and a piece of paper, and before I knew it she was up on stage laughing and smiling, almost tugging at my shirt sleeve, just delighting the audience with her youthful exuberance and innocent fearlessness. I find myself singing the song to her while doing an autograph and encouraging her to sing little parts of the song too. All of this gets cheers and applause and even the band is grinning and shaking their heads. She slips back off of the stage and into the audience but should have collected a check from me as a band member J.
We partied hard with Roof Garden and look up to the second tier balcony on the right and wave (I’m looking on out and past them to the heavens saying thank you). This has been at least as good as Lubeck.
Amazing! Birgit and her friends come to hug me, meet me, and greet me in my dressing room after the show. I’m smiling and grinning now as I think about this night. I’d love to come back next year!
Thanks, Germany! I’ll see you soon and off to Denmark!