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 It’s the morning after The Jacksonville Jazz Festival and I have finally realized what a serious metropolis the city of Jacksonville is. University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Jacksonville University…Reason enough for any kind of music at all, and perhaps especially jazz, to have a home sweet home here. AND I’ve got friends in Jacksonville who will be shaking their finger and fists at me for being so uninformed. I’ve been coming to this festival for many years, maybe in the neighborhood of 15, and in the touring mode of in-and-out and onto the next location, I missed the boat on Jacksonville. AND this is the home to Shannon West, one of the most respected music critics and reporters, and friends of jazz, in the last 15 years. Hi Ms. West, don’t stop! The new location for the festival is down by the riverfront with walking streets and three beautiful bridges that cross over a river that shows the other side’s beautiful waterfront buildings. The concert grounds hold many thousands of people, with lots of them standing and walking about with a very big VIP section in front of the stage. This setup is new for me. I did most of my dates at this concert in a mid-city local park. Even then it was sponsored by the City Council and was a free concert, but these days, as Mayor Alvin Brown explained, they have partnered with AARP. That is to say, it is impressively large and multi-formatted, with several stages up and down the same closed-off street. And lots of variety in the jazz! Without a soundcheck, we hit the stage at 9:30. Without a soundcheck… This is always a challenging venture. But we all bite the bullet and deal with it. Glad to be able to do it at all. So on this night, I struggled through not hearing the band very well. But as a group, we’ve been doing this long enough for me to have a pretty good ‘working sense’ of what it sounds like. And so in that spirit, we all played well. This large audience was happenin’! By the time we went on, they had been there all afternoon and evening. And must have been sonic-ly exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, and tired, and maybe a little tipsy. But they greeted us strongly, stayed all night long, and grooved hard when we hit Roof Garden/Reach For It, the George Duke combination of our shared composition and his own huge R&B/Funk hit. We all want to congratulate our promoter on the growth of this festival, and its great staff and volunteers, and how well it’s organized and run. Thanks for the introduction, Mayor Brown and DJ Dawn! See you next year… please! Love, Al
Jacksonville, FL Jazz Fest!
- posted ON 05.27.14 AT 10:48 AM
It’s the morning after The Jacksonville Jazz Festival and I have finally realized what a serious metropolis the city of Jacksonville is. University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Jacksonville University…Reason enough for any kind of music at all, and perhaps especially jazz, to have a home sweet home here. AND I’ve got friends in Jacksonville who will be shaking their finger and fists at me for being so uninformed. I’ve been coming to this festival for many years, maybe in the neighborhood of 15, and in the touring mode of in-and-out and onto the next location, I missed the boat on Jacksonville. AND this is the home to Shannon West, one of the most respected music critics and reporters, and friends of jazz, in the last 15 years. Hi Ms. West, don’t stop!
The new location for the festival is down by the riverfront with walking streets and three beautiful bridges that cross over a river that shows the other side’s beautiful waterfront buildings. The concert grounds hold many thousands of people, with lots of them standing and walking about with a very big VIP section in front of the stage.
This setup is new for me. I did most of my dates at this concert in a mid-city local park. Even then it was sponsored by the City Council and was a free concert, but these days, as Mayor Alvin Brown explained, they have partnered with AARP. That is to say, it is impressively large and multi-formatted, with several stages up and down the same closed-off street. And lots of variety in the jazz!
Without a soundcheck, we hit the stage at 9:30. Without a soundcheck… This is always a challenging venture. But we all bite the bullet and deal with it. Glad to be able to do it at all. So on this night, I struggled through not hearing the band very well. But as a group, we’ve been doing this long enough for me to have a pretty good ‘working sense’ of what it sounds like. And so in that spirit, we all played well. This large audience was happenin’! By the time we went on, they had been there all afternoon and evening. And must have been sonic-ly exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, and tired, and maybe a little tipsy. But they greeted us strongly, stayed all night long, and grooved hard when we hit Roof Garden/Reach For It, the George Duke combination of our shared composition and his own huge R&B/Funk hit.
We all want to congratulate our promoter on the growth of this festival, and its great staff and volunteers, and how well it’s organized and run. Thanks for the introduction, Mayor Brown and DJ Dawn! See you next year… please!
Melissa Walker, a really wonderful jazz singer and wife to Grammy-Winning Bassist Christian McBride, started an after-school jazz music program called Jazz House Kids. They’ve grown to have their own 3-room classroom and playing space. Their big band has won awards and these kids are as excited about playing jazz as 6 year olds at recess on the playground.
This is Melissa’s dream baby coming of age and starting to walk and run. It boggles my mind and drops my jaw. They have community business partners/sponsors who come to benefits and fundraiser concerts to clap loud and write checks to fund this wonderful school. They know it enriches their community when their own youngsters are learning and participating in healthy wholesome life-enriching activities that will benefit them as moms and dads and families and neighbors of these smart productive and SENSITIVE new minds.
The Arts are the workshops of sensitivity training and re/creation and re/creative activities that make joy and high morale.
We’re wired that way. After the joy and fun that a person/child feels of running and tumbling, something else more mature gets satisfied by making—creating something that comes from inside of oneself that wasn’t there before. Athletes do it in making a great play. And fourth graders do it when painting the winter-scape with grey skies and snow on bare branch trees, then out to recess, and skipping rope 100 times without tripping the rope.
Anyway, Christian and I did a combination afternoon rehearsal/master class with questions from Christian and the audience of students and teachers, and community colleagues and friends. There was a creative new twist that was so much fun for everybody—Me too! To questions about my music education, I responded about my classroom instruction being the church and my living room (where my older brothers sang very complex vocal quartet music), my school choir, high school, ¬¬jazz trio with vocalist situations. That is an example of very loose performance based learning situations. On the job training, etc. etc. In fact, as I think back, I always had a difficult time doing any kind of formal music study (my mother taught piano, not me). Perhaps because I’d gotten a bit spoiled with performing by second nature and therefore perhaps not wanting to be a beginning student.
As far as the afternoon’s banter, amazingly, we took the same approach that evening with the concert. Play some music and then chat back and forth. David Sanborn and I have shared the stage real often in our careers. We also shared “The Dream” and an era of music that was and is iconic in every important respect of art and culture. We could have talked all night. It’s good there was a time limit or we wouldn’t have heard the big band and Christian, which was, in fact, the main attraction, the reason why people came.
This whole approach was a spark of creative brilliance that put the oh-so-important donors and sponsors right in the middle of the process, to see the goals and results of their contributions. I think they got it, and will keep on helping to make the dream come true. You cannot miss or deny the sight of kids who are in school and motivated and happy and doing well in the three R’s, and who will very likely go on to college.
For me, the magical dream keeps unfolding with new records and new tours and new inspirations like this. I’ll return again if I’m asked, and in the meantime, I’ll admire that tenacious
I’ve been here too very precious few times in my career and have always felt a kind of loss at not having a more continuous relationship with this really special musical audience. So having this return to Austin just after an appearance here 3 years ago is truly satisfying for me. This is a university town, and as cosmopolitan as lots of big city schools, with people coming from all over the world. I love schools. And North Texas State, one of the great Jazz schools in the world, is just up the street.
Well, one of my heroes was my first keyboard player and writing partner in my band who joined me on my first record We Got By and first several tours, a young player named Tom Canning. He spent a lot of time in this neighborhood playing music and developing Jazz sensitivities and abilities. And he would tout about all the other music that was going on in the Texas area, including North Texas State, and with hometown hero Willie Nelson. In fact, first time we came to this neighborhood in the 70s, Tom said, “Look, man, all you have to do is mention Willie Nelson, and you’ll be an immediate success.” I think about that often, and in fact, hung out with Tom Canning just a few short weeks ago.
But this is the first time we’ve come to a fabulous little theater of 300 seats called “One World Theater.” Proprietor and Johnny on the Spot Promoter is Hartt Stearns, with his wife Nada, a real good singer herself, right by his side. Hartt also was and is a percussionist. When you realize that Hartt comes from music as a profession, you get a real clear picture of the love and special care that went into the creation of this special little jewel. 300 seats is not a lot of seats, but he had the nerve to envision a miniature-sized red velvet seat performing arts center-type venue. First row is sweating distance from the edge of the stage. This has the immediacy of being in a club-kind of setting. Just perfect for their Jazzy format. Chris Botti is here the night after me, and Kenny G on the way. He met us at the hotel in his personal van, and took us to do morning television. And then, he transported us to soundcheck and the evening’s performances.
We did two shows, one at 7 and one at 9:30, to the welcoming applause and excitement of an audience that welcomed us like we were long-awaited returning friends. And that was the case. They were attentive and alert. And as responsive as any group of “Jazz Enthusiasts” you’ll ever meet. When the guys soloed, they really heard from these people. Believe me, that pushes you on to higher ground. Quite often along the way, I would mention my numbers of years in the business, including me and George Duke, and our 1965 CD Live at The Half Note, and the audience’s appreciation for my own personal little marathon was really satisfying… Everyone knows I’m almost 50 years old.
When Larry switched from Keyboards to Flute, their hands seemed to be already out in front of them in pre-applause position. And when Joe Turano played his horn solos on tenor and soprano, and then doubled back to his keyboard setup, they knew they were getting something special. When John Calderon stopped his fiery electric guitar solos and picked up the acoustic, and walked to the front of the stage and sat down, and began to play classical acoustic, … It was ON. Superdrummer Mark Simmons made their hair blow back with his bass drum, and his hands quicker than a cat’s made them laugh and smile. You miss these things when you’re yards away. These days Chris Walker walks forward to where John had just been, and introduces some solo bass lines for Take 5. In these moments, I’m an observer, too, and get caught up in these very musical and charming theatrics. It’s a journey, it’s a trip—The scenery, the sounds, are lots of fun.
Almost as though the people leaving brushed elbows with and passed on their energy and delight to the newcomers, we played to just as enthusiastic an audience as the first show. Four rows back on the right side was a 10 or 12 year old grade-school girl who squirmed and laughed and applauded in delight. I was even more delighted. Maybe her folks play my music at home?!?! Maybe this was her first live music concert?! Maybe, maybe, maybe, etc. But there she was. Havin’ a great time, and won’t soon forget this night, and I hope she’ll be telling her friends at school about it.
For me to be able to see all of this in the light spilling off of the stage and into the audience with everyone in the audience close enough to see their smile was making me a bit giddy myself. I laughed and quipped and joked with them because it was obvious they were into it and gettin’ it. These days we’re closing the evening with a Roof Garden/Reach For It encore medley, and by then, everybody’s up dancin’. That’s the best.
I went out front and signed CDs, and took photos, and did a lot of huggin’. What a great night in Austin. I called them “Austin Strong”. Thank you. That was Oh-So-Satisfying.
Stockton, CA… A Seaport town, would you believe that! I had no idea. Well there’s probably lots I don’t know about Stockton. But, it is also the home of The University of the Pacific, which is, in turn, home to the Dave Brubeck Institute. So David himself became an educator—more specifically a Jazz educator—and he deliberately set about taking his jazz music to campus. In fact, there is a record that’s called Jazz Goes to College. And so how appropriate the Brubeck Institute is on the Pacific campus where he went to school and where he met his wife Iola who passed just a few weeks ago. I heard him in my own campus’ little theater in 1961 at Ripon College, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Gene Wright, and Dave.
This has to have marked the early stages of some Jazz educational notions that were surely part of his deliberate efforts to take this important American music form to the European continent itself. He was not alone in this. He had colleagues a few years older than he, like Basie and Ellington, Woody Herman, Kenton, Sarah, Ella, and others, who all led the way.
Perhaps the crowning venture in his educational outreach is The Brubeck Institute, since 2001, at his old alma mater, which was the College of the Pacific. It has begun to take its place right alongside Berkeley College of Music, North Texas State, University of Indiana, and Julliard as one of the great centers for Jazz education in America.
I have been on the board and letterhead at the Brubeck Institute for several years, but this was the first time I’ve actually been to visit and play at their 13 year old festival.
We sure got the royal treatment all day long at the Bob Hope Theatre, which hosts a lot of the performances for the festival. Simon Rowe, the director of the Institute, is so warm and gracious as to make you feel like you are visiting your own grade school. He was there for soundcheck and to introduce me and the band for our evening performance. A really lovely night was had by all, and the band and I ran the gamut of musical excursions, appropriately including a quite fresh version of Take Five-Blue Rondo a la Turk, and a two-song encore of “Put It Where You Want It” and “Roof Garden-Reach For It.” (The new Roof-Reach Medley is coming soon on the George Duke tribute album as well.)
Here’s a wonderful ‘parenthesis’ for you: Back in 1965 or so, a youthful George Duke produced and recorded a family of 5 girl singers called “The Third Wave”. They sang at one of the premier Bay Area Jazz clubs in Sausalito called The Trident. The town of Stockton has always had a sunshiney place in my mind because these five sisters ages 12 to 18 were from Stockton. Whenever I thought of them, with a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I thought of Stockton. (As a group, they were fabulous. Look ‘em up on YouTube.) So while driving from the airport, we called information, and found Josie, their mother. What a reunion on the phone. And when they came backstage at the concert, we were jumping up and down like kids on a school playground. And… We sang “Chloe,” a song from their record. That was a moment none of us will ever forget.
My record producer’s father and mother Bob and Marlene Burk popped in on us that night, and looked on with big eyes and accompanying grins. Thanks, John!
The next morning, we concluded our visit with a panel discussion that included me along with a great group: Grammy-winning drummer Terri Lynn Carrington; her piano player Helen Sung; my bass player Chris Walker; his instructor from high school, Dr. Morgan; and Simon Rowe, from the Brubeck Institute. In fact, not only Chris, but also both Helen and Simon were at one point students of Dr. Morgan. Amazing. We should have been on CSPAN with this discussion of the importance of arts in the school curriculum.
Well there you have it. The above and a wonderful list of bright fresh creative moments beginning last May have been highlighting this period of my life and stage of my career. It is refreshing and rejuvenating… And I’m Percolatin’, syncopatin’, celebratin’, elevatin’. “And coming soon to a theater near you!”
Great Russell Street and Bloomsbury Street form an intersection just outside my window, that I saw every morning when I woke up and had my coffee. I’d do light warm-up scales and look at people walking into a currency exchange on one corner, and on the other corner a restaurant, but most of the people were walking to and from the British Museum, with its great broad paved terrace just a hundred yards away down Great Russell.
Nothing hectic here. It’s calm and casual with an occasional group of 15 or 20 school kids and a teacher leading the way and keeping “order”. This was a great way to start the day as I got ready to do a wonderful return to Ronnie Scott’s, where I first met my London and Great Britain audience, in 1977. I indeed have returned a couple of other times. In fact, the last time being just a year and a half ago, during the summer Olympics.
Surprise, surprise. This new occasion had all of us surprised and delighted with this quick return. As it turns out, there is a whole flock of London horn players who found inspiration in the sound of the Seawind Horns: Larry Williams, Jerry Hey, Kim Hutchcroft, Gary Grant and Bill Reichenbach. Tom Walsh, a London trumpet player in his early 20s, is one of those players, and he came up with the concept of performing the entire 1983 Jarreau album from top to bottom. They approached Ronnie Scott’s and pointed out that this album featured some of the great horn arrangements ever written. Tom got in touch with Larry Williams and Jerry Hey, and asked Larry if he would be interested in playing keys as part of the project. The idea was, Larry would fly to London, rehearse with the band, and play keys while a local singer sang down the album.
Well, of course, Larry is not only a founding member of Seawind, but he’s also the longest-standing member of my band. And when he heard about the local singer, he said, “Well hey, I know a pretty good singer.” And he asked me. And off I went to London to sing at Ronnie Scott’s and “to visit the Queen”.
We did three nights with two sets each night, and it was great fun to remind everybody that when they listened to Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, they were also listening to Larry Williams and Seawind Horns. And some of the greatest moments of Earth, Wind, and Fire happened because of these horn players.
I’ve sung at Wembley Arena with 10,000 people watching, and the Royal Albert Hall with 5, the Apollo, and Hyde Park. But this occasion at Ronnie’s was a wonderful peak of my London career, thus far. You could almost call it a return home, with lots of these people present for both my first visit in the 70s, and this most recent visit.
“The Whole Album: Top to Bottom!” That was the approach that we would take, and how this date was advertised. And I had to do some real serious studying of some very exacting vocals. Some songs, I had never even gotten to perform, since the day they were recorded in the studio. All of that study and preparation was wonderful and eye-opening, even if a bit daunting.
When those horn licks are being played right in your ear as you sing, you become super-conscious, as does the audience, of where these Selmer-made horns made the music become all that it was and is.
I’m certain that the most striking and outstanding characteristics and features about this occasion were the hearing and watching in a really intimate setting some songs that were real familiar, and incidentally being able to read the time on my watch, and hear me inhale, and then in a normal and totally audible tone, say, “Great solo,” to the guitarist. And you could experience it that way from anyplace in the room. Sooooooo, you can imagine the quiet intimacy of “Not Like This” and “Waltz for Debbie” or “Midnight Sun,” when the horns were silent.
Oh yes, and the “Right in your face” experience included peering down the throats and hearing the ushering sounds of two background singers. They were fantastic! A lady named Annabel Williams who was a beautiful taller than I am white chick. And a guy Tommy Blaize- he was going to sing my parts before they enlisted me to show up! They were really wonderful. I could see people’s eyes dart back and forth from me to them and back to me.
I’ve been doing symphony orchestra programs for 15 years, giving an expanded musical experience, which is quite rare for audiences. A similar form of that happened when we did the Metropole Orchestra performances and album. Another similar is the NDR (Nord Deutsche Rundfunk) Big Band/Al Jarreau Experience, which features Gershwin highlights. And now, there’s this wonderful new wrinkle: a Horn Band listen to the 1983 Jarreau album. And this one in itself is totally different from all the rest. I dream of taking it to a number of different UK locations. And why not Chicago and New Orleans?
Great Russell and Bloomsbury Streets, and Ronnie Scott’s on Frith Street… Thank you for one of the special trips of my life.
See you next time!
I’ve described this whole period since this past Fall as a kind of downhill slalom where I’ve taken a spill, and have been hoping for a big boulder or tree stump to slow me down. ‘Parenthesis’: However, this downhill slalom is wonderful and beautiful… And I’m just now wrapping up one of the most creative periods in my life, with my upcoming George Duke Tribute occupying an apex point in it all. That will have its own post or many posts, as it has been an extraordinary project that we’ve been working on here.
This period of creativity began with a 10-city summer tour, which we’ve already talked about. Then I went into the Fall season with a very serious project in mind, that required a sizeable chunk of personal quiet private time, to write. To write a piece called, “Ode to Ballet.” A lot of you guys remember Freddie Ravel. He was music director in my band for several years, and collaborated with me on several songs including “Tomorrow Today” and “Betty Bebop Song.” Well, his wife is a serious ballet dancer, born in Quebec, and has danced with Nureyev and Baryshnikov, pas de deux. I met Marie, “Sweetie,” just a short time after she and Freddie met. And I remember hearing parts of their telephone conversations backstage in any number of cities between her and Freddie, who addressed her as “Sweetie” to begin every sentence. It was so funny. Marie even accepts my calling her Sweetie.
Well, it’s 15 years and two children later, not to mention a serious car accident and an extensive rehabilitation, and Marie has continued to dance. In fact, she’s started her own ballet company. As I posted in November, I joined Freddie in writing our special “Ode to Ballet,” for her program On Pointe at 50… And Beyond. The poem is reproduced here:
My Kite, the Dancer (Ode to Ballet) by Al Jarreau and Freddie Ravel, 2013
We made a kite of the birch wood’s finest parchment,
Pages of paper that trees made and poets share.
It soars like the church chimes that fly through the hills and gardens
All sunlit and silent with a pigtail, like little girls wear.
My dancer, my partner, my kite tells a past
Of when kites were dancers indeed:
A tinkling piano, a bar glued to glass
And mornings with Erik Satie.
Alice and Dorothy—Good name for a song—
They hurry and scurry and curtsy at dawn.
Alice and Dorothy, pastels and chiffon,
Tchaikovsky and Dickens on Christmas Morn.
Ba-rish-nina-kovas, Marias from Spain
Come calling from towns far and wide
With waltzes and polkas and strange sounding names
From mothers who squeezed every dime.
So, is it insane: Sweet feet in binds?
On pointe in pain—Oh butterfly!
Silk satin slippers and ribbons disguise
The long hours and powers unfurled when… you… fly…
With heart beating bellows no tunics can hide
And blood pumping whispers and murmurs and sighs,
Just honey and berries and tea and plain rice
For sugar plum fairies in training to fight.
Then wonder that effortless look on your face
Right here in one moment such power, such grace.
A music box. A figurine.
A lords and ladies-a-leapin’ dream.
Some kinsmen say:
“Sweet feet in binds, on pointe in play, Brave Butterfly!
When aches and pains and agonies
Turn into joys and ecstasies.
And mark ye well this other place
Where aches and pains forge power and grace…
And gold and silver fantasies await your noble Alchemies.”
So sinews and old shoes, bright eyes off to class,
Your heart’s in your hand, your pulse pounding fast,
You twist and you bend; reach up, out, and past
As though this one moment could be your last.
My kite, the dancer, will always say:
“I’m from deep woods and forests where hummingbirds play
And the rings of these trees found in ships bows and bays
Become stories and rhymes of our times and our days.”
My paper kite dances, then stops, and then dives.
The oak and birch wood up there, still alive.
Whirling and twirling, above the lake
With shimmering reflections – a blue sky ballet.
My heart skips in awe and do I dare say
Just like the White Swan that stole the day.
And you of the dance might have used all your might
To fly over a bar or a finish line…
Well, shout “De-ga-je! Gran plié! Port to bra!”
With bouquets of roses, we stand and applaud
As you gracefully reach out and touch the face of God.
There are still several places you can go in the world that have preserved the niceties and civilities associated with very old cultures. Japan is one of those places. Immediately when we arrived at the airport in Tokyo we were greeted by our Billboard Live host of recent years named Kumi. She greeted us with a big bow and a bigger smile, and off we were from the airport to the hotel. We were all very happy to find our beds after a 10 hour flight and a 17 hour time change. We were ready to get some rest before we hit it hard the next day.
And boy did the next day get there fast! The afternoon rolled around and we all went to the venue, where I have played 3 or 4 times before. It occurred to me as I was preparing for soundcheck, “This must be my 35th year coming to Japan.” I came here first in 1979, brought in by one of the great early promoters of Jazz in Japan, Tats Nagashima. Even many years before me, he had brought Nat King Cole, which opened a flood of other Western artists. In those 35 years, I must have visited just as many times, and my audience is still very faithful. I love playing for them.
Joe Turano and I got together in Los Angeles last week to work out a set for the Tokyo crowd. The plan was a rigorous 2-shows-per-night, 3 nights out of 4, with a live on air performance the second night. So, of course, we wanted to make it special. We opened strong with Boogie Down, and burned straight through into Mornin’. I love that start. It really announces that, hey, we came to party. And the people came right along with us.
It’s hard to condense 4 shows into one write up like this, especially when we are playing live music that is not “canned,” that is fresh and new for the audience. So many wonderful things happened, so many wonderful faces in the audience seeing and feeling and experiencing and sharing these moments that are being created right now on stage. There was one group of four women in the front row in each of the Tokyo shows, and then two of them even showed up in Osaka! True superfans—Jarreauniacs! Thank you, Kaori, Kumiko, and the rest of you! It was great having such enthusiasm right in the front row.
With a bit of lament in our feelings we’ve come to accept these 2-show per night gigs in Japan during the last 15 years… “Big Club” situations. Perhaps we’ve become spoiled by a single-performance concert evening. Surely for Jazz and pop, etc., the longer tradition has been a 3 set per night gig. The essential difference is in intensity of performance over the evening. In a concert performance, it’s blood, sweat, and tears the whole time. No stone is unturned, and it’s a maxed out event. That approach is unworkable in a two-set evening. Certainly not three sets. BUT. The expectations of management and listeners are exactly the same as a single-show concert night. But twice. These are the changing realities in the world of available work. So when you’ve decided that you want to work and you’re going to work, you make the adjustment, gird your loins, and go forth into the fray.
I was remarking to myself and Patrick with joy and wonderment about how the folks in the audience during all six performances sang in unison on the bridge to Mornin’. This is not just an “Oo, shoobeedoo, the sky is blue” sort of lyric. Especially being that these ideas are happening in a second language. But there they were, apparently understanding it, and singing every word. And enjoying the completed thought and notion.
This is a tough time of the year anywhere for concerts, and ticket sales. Everybody’s just crossed over from Christmas into new years, and their pockets are not as full. So we have to be happy that Billboard thought we could draw some people. And we did.
During all six performances, the band setup was close and cozy. This makes for a real recognizable intimate communication inside of the band. This excitement and electric communication onstage is tangible for the audience. It’s one of the great extras of working in the club situation.
There are niceties that transpire between people in Japanese culture that are wonderful and delicate traditions of kindness and courtesy that are a wonder to behold. Gift giving! Not expensive gifts, but just a little comment that says, “Before you arrived, I was thinking about you. And I wanted you to have these little cloth napkins that we use.” Or “… this special pair of chopsticks.” Or “… a little toy. Toss the ball on a string into the cup.” Oh, the sun will surely rise in the morning without these little pleasantries between people. But. This is a long way from the “Fonz” approach. I love it.
This kind of attention to detail is everywhere. It’s the tea service tradition, the delicate bonsai tree groomed just so, and enormous pride in your work… Taxi driver, house keeper, Billboard Live staff.
So we really mean it when we say, “Let’s do it again soon.”
If you’re just tuning in, then Brazil is a surprise to you, too. Patrick and I were just recounting this recent fortnight. We left 15 days ago and went to Toronto, to Kiawah Island, to Newark, NJ, to Brazil… a crazy routing.
Brazil is awesome and breathtaking unlike anyplace else on the planet. I looked out of my window at 10 o’clock in the morning, and the beach was jammed with people and umbrellas and babies and volleyballs as far to the right and left as you could see, more than a mile in each direction. And yes, it’s called Ipanema Beach.
Almost all the time, one is astounded by the view out to sea with a glance to the left that shows Corcavado with Christ The Redeemer on top, arms outstretched. Or looked the other direction and there’s the iconic Sugarloaf mound. And it was with these feelings inside that we drove an hour and a half from Rio to Petropolis. Petropolis is a long ways up the mountains, and Alina, the sister of our main promoter Junior, was just delightful. She became like Auntie Alina, showing us things and pointing out other stuff. And talking about her daughter Nina, inspiring me to sing “Nina Never Knew.” We even started a new song, with Nina’s name in it.
When we got to our venue, we discovered it actually resembles a huge Swiss chalet. It’s surprising and awesome to see it appear, all white and St. Moritz-like, right here in Brazil. It had been a casino at one time, but now is a collection of elegant residential suites. No more casino, but they did construct a real concert venue with a wrap-around mezzanine. The highlight of the evening was Brazilian artist Zé Ricardo joining me on stage, and the two of us doing some real authentic Brazilian music.
BUT! Suddenly all the power went out onstage. I’m laughing now, and I even laughed when it happened. Why? Because it’s just… PERFECT. Just made to order for a professional singer of 50 years. Of course, if this kind of power failure happens at Yankees Stadium or the Rose Bowl, then you’re sunk. But not in Petropolis. Larry and I looked at each other with a “Let me at ‘em” attitude. We fumbled a little bit, but then decided, “Let’s go acoustic right at these people!” The ever-poignant Waltz for Debbie, followed by Summertime. By the end of Summertime, the band was back powered up and we finished strong. They roared. This got the biggest applause of the evening, it seemed to me. They really appreciated this “Take care of business” effort. And then Zé came and joined us, and things took off into the sky and still another direction, with everybody singing “Agua de Beber” and “Mas Que Nada.”
Wow. What do we do tomorrow?
I’ll tell you what we did. The band powered onto stage in front of 6000 people in downtown Rio on the festival grounds right by their central lake. And it was electric, literally and figuratively.
We had arrived early and shared one continuous long gasp as we stood there in the shadow of the Christ statue on Corcavado, ever present to the eyes in your head and heart. The sun was shining and some teenagers rollerskated, and partied about as we soundchecked on this holiday weekend. And then, of all things, I listened to the soundcheck of Paulo Jobim and group. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s son was playing the tradition, and I sneaked over to the edge of the stage and just sat there, marveling at this matinee. This was the stuff of my dreams. At home in Sausalito and San Francisco, I tried to create this: This sunny afternoon matinee, with the accompaniment of the wonderful soft samba sound. Open the doors, and walk in and out with an umbrella drink or not. My mind was in flight.
All of this culminated in the evening performance with a full moon watching everybody. The light from the stage spilled out into the audience so that we could see smiles and dancing far out into the whole gathering. The band was precise and locked. Joe’s and Larry’s and John’s and Mark’s solos were inspired but oh-so-relaxed and intimate: Fire & Ice. Zé joined me again as I took time to tell everybody how they (and I pointed at them) had changed my life… All true! And I began to tick off the names of artists who they recognized and spontaneously yelled and screamed in appreciation. These were their heroes, too.
Zé is loose and fun and “of the moment.” You know I love that. So the both of us were really conscious of this spontaneity even as we did it. Wow! There’s a special magic in the air when that happens. It’s a natural high. We did encores and they still wanted more. So we gave it to them. The band and I hugged and high-fived in our own joyful satisfaction of doing our best and beyond.
Our promoters with SESC were laughing and grinning and clapping their hands in joy. It was everything they hoped for and more. And we felt the same way. Something special had happened that’s like the doors swinging open, with a real attractive view into the future.
I am happy.
Sarah was discovered at the Apollo Theatre, but was born just across the river in Newark, NJ. Her life and history as one of the premier jazz singers of all time needs no reiteration.
The brilliant bassist Christian McBride formed a big band and invited several singers to come and perform in honor of “Sass”: Cyrille Aimee, Melissa Walker, Jeffrey Osborne, Dianne Reeves, and me. I was also asked to judge a Sarah Vaughn singing competition the day after the grand performance. More about that later.
We flew in from Charleston, South Carolina so we were puffin’ a little bit at our 2:30pm rehearsal. My music director Joe Turano helped me get settled in with the big band, and we had a too-short rehearsal. They were probably the same for everybody else. I found myself thinking about how infrequently I have ever gotten to Newark, NJ. Wow. I’m many years into my career, and I still very frequently find myself saying, “I hardly got to know you.” It’s real uncomfortable in all the obvious ways. As a recording artist and performer, you really hope to reach lots of people. If you had heard how they greeted me, you’d be saying, “Wow! Al! Those people really like you…” And you’d be right. What I know, however, is that in my entire career, I’ve been to Newark fewer than half a dozen times. Wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do. This beautiful downtown performing arts center was full at showtime and how appropriate for Cyrille to be here and open the evening. She’s a hot new jazz singer from France that I heard at Thelonious Monk Competition in DC around 3 years ago. She was my pick for “winning,” and she was magical tonight.
The enthusiasm from the audience was remarkable from the beginning. They laughed and clapped in time, and applauded all the solos and begged for more. I felt it! And Jeffrey Osborne felt it. And Dianne Reeves drank it in, too.
I am bowing to Christian McBride and the band, and really congratulate Darlene Chan our producer on a really wonderful and beautiful event. I’m so glad about this 2013 contact with Newark, NJ. The next day began a singing competition between 5 semi-finalists of the Sarah Vaughn “Sassy Awards” Competition. This competition was organized by Larry Rosen and Carl Griffin’s Jazz Roots educational organization. Ramsey Lewis and I appear frequently on their stages and in their classrooms.
All women for this Sass competition, and a very impressive class they were. Without detailing everything, let me just say that we heard some wonderful improvising with really advanced professional stage presence and audience appeal, and some scat singing that was already world class… This is exceptional beyond words. Our Sass semi-finalists were Teira Church of Los Angeles, Lydia Harrell of Boston, Jazzmeia Horn of New York City, Barbra Lica of Toronto, and Camille Thurman of New York City. After a first round, the 3 finalists were Jazzmeia, Barbara, and Camille, with Jazzmeia being the winner. My impression is that the audience agreed with our decisions and selections, and if I had had a chance, I’d have told them how pleased, reassured, and grateful I am, and would have been if there had been this kind of group out of ten such years of competition. I was so happy to see Janis Siegel of The Manhattan Transfer, who was a judge with me before, and duetted with me a couple of seasons ago at the “Ella!” Celebration in Washington, D.C. Janis and I were joined by founder of GRP Records Larry Rosen, a Newark DJ named Gary Walker, and jazz singer/past winner of the T. Monk Competition, Gretchen Parlato.
I also should have talked about last Springtime’s International Jazz Day, United Nations and Thelonius Monk Institute the sponsors and organizers. I’m sure I did a little report on that event just after it happened so I won’t do details here. But it is important to make mention again that the United Nations and Monk Institute brought a “Who’s Who” of the Jazz world together in Istanbul to perform, and to reiterate the importance of this amazing art form that originated in America and that we call Jazz. Simultaneously in 80 countries around the world, there was the same kind of celebration. This is significant.
Anyway, we had a wonderful time in Newark, NJ, and I’m loving the leaves of red and gold. Thanks for a great visit, and for the reminder of how much I love this change of seasons.
I was just remarking to Patrick about the fact that I really don’t have a working geography in my head of the Carolinas and nearby Atlantic coast. As a matter of fact, I really have a shabby understanding of the New York and Jersey Atlantic coast, where I happen to visit and play rather frequently. But visits to the Carolina part of the Atlantic coast are really rare.
So anyway, we froze our butts off on this cold Carolina coast, in NOVEMBER. I hope you can tell, I’m laughing and smiling here in delight. But I’m serious about the cold. The golf resort is right on the coast… I mean 50 yards out of the side door and you’re walking on the sandy beach. And so, quite naturally, when it’s not hot summertime, there’s gonna be cool and gusty coastal weather.
But- Earl Klugh’s weekends of jazz are always warm and cozy and happy wherever they are. And so it was down here at the Kiawah Resort, with grits in the morning. Earl and Denise always do something special with their jazz weekend that involves an opportunity for jazz guests and artists to meet and say hello, for cocktails or lunch, always optional. See—Always warm and cozy! For instance, this time, we had a wonderful afternoon Question & Answer session with Earl, and Burt Bacharach, and Jay from Spiro Gyra, and local DJ/Journalist Richard Todd. That was fun. I’ve done lots of these Q&A afternoons, but it’s always with press, not guests/audience people. It’s a lot less clinical like this. It was obvious how touched and moved and warmed by the presence of Burt Bacharach everyone was. Humble and sweet and generous is what you get from Burt Bacharach.
8:45pm saw me and my band in full swing on the resort’s big open lawn, with 1200 people in white folding chairs under mushroom heaters in rapt attention after Spiro Gyra left the stage appropriately hot for me and my guys. This audience was great, and even though they shivered and blew on their cupped hands to stay warm, they gave off a wonderful heat and warmth of their own, and we had a great time. There were two ladies down front and left of me who jammed so hard all night, and repeatedly high-fived each other at special moments during songs and after songs. They stayed all night.
There was wonderful applause and cheering when Earl suddenly joined me in the middle of the set to do “This Time.” It’s almost difficult for me to grasp how old this piece of music actually is. I heard it pre-1980. It became the title song for the 1980 release of my own. It’s a little wacky that I’ve always considered Earl to be one of the ‘baby-child geniuses’ in our shared genre. In any case, it’s a staple in my repertoire, and often it’s pointed out and pointed to by others as a big favorite and high point of excellence.
Earl and the band must have been oh-so-thankful for those little hot pocket hand-warmers that they had stuffed in their pockets to keep their fingers warm. We did finally prevail over and above the chill in the air, but I can tell you, it was breathing down our collars. And the audience’s standing ovation at the end surely involved some attempt to move around and stay warm… We did come back for more, and there were smiles and happiness all around. And off they all went to an after-hours party in the hotel lobby bar that was extraordinary. Normally, people are getting in their cars and heading off to home in all directions. Home, on this night, was just moments away on foot. Party over here!!
See you in Newark with Christian McBride and the Big Band!