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 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!
London, and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, February 2014
- posted ON 04.7.14 AT 01:46 PM
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!
I’m always “crying in my beer” about almost never getting to come to Canada. There’s any number of towns where people must have heard of this “Wild and Crazy Guy” from Milwaukee. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and would you believe Calgary? I played Calgary in 1969! Well, I opened for Steppenwolf. Well… you get the idea.
And so, last night, there we were in Markham. “Markham, you say?” It’s home to the Canadian headquarters of Honda, Oracle, IBM, and others. It’s part of the Greater Toronto Area, and I’m really really happy to say that 2 years ago, we did play in the city at JazzFM’s Jazz Lives Festival. It was fantastic. And we also got over to the West Coast and did Vancouver. I could live in either of these wonderful cities.
The run up to last night’s performance was terrific. Interviews with all the major local stations with DJs who really knew me and what I do. So finally, it is great to report some continuing and renewed interest in “Al Jarreau” at this time and date in my career. Eric, the Flato Markham Theater’s director, and David from JazzFM went on and on about some guy named Al Jarreau that they were about to introduce. One of them even used the word “Legend’ry”
There were 530 seats, intimate and up close, and true to the North American continent, only a couple of teenagers. There was a nine year-old lad in the front row named Logan. We met and shook hands, and I told him how glad I was to see him there, and thanked his mom and dad for telling him about some alternatives to typical teen music. I’ll say it again, real loudly and clearly, that it’s wonderful to make new friends in new towns, and communities that are watching and seeing a guy and his musicians do what they do. When it’s fresh and new for them, they send to you onstage an energy that is recognizably fresh and new: Eyes wide and delighted and an enthusiastic response that just re-energizes your own already enthusiastic efforts. And so it went. Somewhere along the evening I talked about my red handkerchief that my wife gave me as she “sent me off to battle,” and that I often wear around my wrist in concert. I mentioned days of old and Shakespeare, and in the process made a small hello and nod to Laurence Fishbourne, who years ago played Othello brilliantly, and was in the audience last night.
We did an intermission program that totaled about 120 minutes with lots of singing along and great playing and solos by the band. And they really recognized and applauded all of the solo work. And by the time we returned with two encores we had served up and shared a very satisfying evening of music.
We sold out of all of our CDs and then signed programs and took photos for over an hour. My niece Jocelyn was there and celebrated her birthday with us, and I sang the song. That was really fun. We definitely made some new friends of the audience and hall officials and sponsors with everybody talking about, “Y’all come back now, ya hear!” I’m ready.
Off we go to Earl Klugh and Spyro Gyra in South Carolina!
Last Saturday night, I got to do something I so very rarely have the occasion to do: I had backup dancers! Well, sort of. The Los Angeles Dance Academy is a 6 month old organization whose first performance I attended earlier this year. I was so inspired by their performance that I ran up to the founder afterward and said, “Marie-France! I have to write a piece for you, called Kite.” 6 months later, this past weekend, I delivered an original spoken word piece entitled “My Kite, The Dancer” that I put together with Marie-France’s husband Freddie Ravel.
This all began 15 or 18 years ago when I met Freddie. He became my music director, and he was my co-writer on Tomorrow Today. That’s a lot of history, and we got to use it all in writing our Ode to the Dancer, so to speak.
The show was beautiful. There were so many dance pieces, and two guest singers (I was not one of them), Clair (I forget your last name, I’m sorry, Clair!) and Elisabeth Howard, who both sang brilliantly. Elisabeth is a world-renowned voice teacher. I told her, “Hey, stop holding back! Tell me somethin’!”
After rehearsing several days before the event, we showed up on Saturday night ready to go. Well. I showed up with my knees knocking, but the dancers sure seemed ready to go. I was reading over my script up until moments before I was onstage. I watched the first half of the show on a screen in the Green Room, and then came out and watched the second half from the side of the stage after I performed. They planned it out so that I would go on and sit down in a big comfy chair and read from a book to the audience. My assistant Patrick said, “Like a grandfather by the fireplace.” And that’s right. Grandpa has a story to tell ya! Listen up!
When I started reading, a young 19 year old dancer walked onto the stage in street clothes, and began her stretches. As the poem continues and I speak about the long hours of training and development and growth, she moved offstage and was replaced by Marie-France, who came on and danced brilliantly, interpreting the ebbs and flows of the lyric with precision and power and grace. Oh did I mention: She’s 50 years old. The title of the evening was On Pointe At 50… And Beyond. And she was every bit of that. I overheard some of the dancers backstage talking, saying, “Forget the fact that she’s 50. She’s doing work a 20 year old would be crazy to do. She’s running a marathon out there.”
And she did. It was magical and marvelous, splendiferous and stupendous, wondrous and wonderful, awesome and amazing, great and gratifying, a tremendous triumph. (Patrick and I were coming up with descriptive words on the jet way today.) Marie-France was blazing through costume changes and showing everyone in the audience just what she intended to show with the evening: 50 is not a wall to be climbed, but a launching pad. Look at what is possible at 50 years old!
Thank you, Marie, and Freddie, and everyone involved with the LA Dance Company. What an impressive group of performers they all are. I look forward to their shows going forward.
Wow! The first and last thing to be mentioned is that Downey is Susan’s hometown… Where she was born and grew up and went to school. We’ve been looking forward to and planning things around this date for a long time. We drove in from Vacaville, arriving with the dawn, and finishing off the bus snooze from the night before in the hotel. The Downey Performing Arts Theatre turned out to be right next door to the hotel, and I’m sure that got a quiet little thank you from everybody, band and crew.
This is another new city and audience for me and the band, and there’s a definite satisfying feeling when they recognize and respond to the beginning of the first three songs. And early on, I’m already having fun with a couple of kids, a sister and brother, in the first row with their mom. “Glad you’re here!” “Alternatives,” I say to the audience. And we talk together all night long, even about the Senate and the assembly.
The ad-libs are on a roll and flying tonight. It’s loose, and fun… There’s a guy in the upstairs balcony to the left who catches my eye and the whole audience and I direct some call and responses at him. Fun!
Of course, Susan is here and a whole bunch of guests who’ve come to celebrate her birthday and catch this almost one-and-only appearance for me and the band in the LA area. They lead the way all night long with their quick energetic responses. I wish they could be there every night.
The band is cookin’ and we add an extra song for good measure.
Again, I talk about the new Metropole Orchestra CD, Vince Mendoza conductor, and feature Scootchabooty and Midnight Sun, total opposites, hot and jazzy then smoky ballad.
Around 3 or 4 shows ago, we devised a wonderful little night-ending segue from Roof Garden’s “Party” into George Duke’s Reach For It. The response has been electric! Surprise, surprise! When this combo is preceded by Mark and I doing some vocal percussion as well as some a cappella doo-wop on Puddit, they’ve gotten full measure, and a baker’s dozen.
We signed lots of CDs after the show, with lots of shakin’ hands and kissin’ babies. I like to say “Kissin’ hands and shakin’ babies.” And sure enough, there’s Jim Darby with his cute little mom. “Percolatin’, Syncopatin’, Celebratin’, etc.” He’s a wonderful new friend that I’ve done some work with. He’s warm and friendly and smart as a whip, and a hot rock’n’roll drummer, Wild Side.
Susan’s brother Mike and his wife Debbie and their son Scott are really special VIP guests for us. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them, and so when Kailey, their 12 year old granddaughter (our grand-niece) is also there, it’s really a wonderful Southern California family reunion. Scott announces an internship with a law firm, and our son, Ryan, announces his marriage engagement.
BEAUTIFUL DAY! Every day is Thanksgiving. Thank you thank you thank you. Great to see Vance and Chris, and Carina and Osmond. Family! We all hung out at the hotel and laughed and lied, eatin’ pizza. Great night.
We took a rare touring bus ride in California on the day before the performance. I see much more of foreign countrysides than Californian fields and forests. It was fun to do that as we talked music and events to come.
This should be a great opportunity to make new friends. This is our first time playing in Vacaville, and somehow all that newness adds a little excitement and energy to everything, even our soundcheck, where we discover and play extensions on a hot little ‘lick’ that John Calderon came up with.
I scurried out from the backstage pre-show to go say hello to some donors of the Performing Arts Center to thank them for the generosity and for being patrons of the arts. It’s so very important and it’s people like these that enable Performing Arts Centers everywhere to carry on and flourish and continue to provide quality entertainment to their communities. While visiting, I saw several high-school aged kids dressed in Jester outfits, spinning whirling rainbow colored ribbons. I though to myself how fun that looked.
As I continued with my ‘la-la-la’ warm-up routine, Joe Turano came to visit. He told me about a woman who he’d chatted with while setting up his saxophones. Her name was Jean, and she told him that she’d been a fan for many years, and now was looking forward to her first concert that night. As Joe told the story, she offered that there was one line of one of my songs that to this day still brings her to tears. Joe said, “I bet you I can guess what it is.” And he did. “I know I can, like any man, reach out my hand and touch the Face of God.” When I call out her name from the stage, she jumped up and down like a little kid, and ran over to me, and squeezed my hand really, really hard. We made some great memories, and everybody sang that line together in a loud voice. Thank you, Jean! It was great to have you at the show!
After the performance, we went out to the lobby and I signed CDs. And there, again, were the Jesters! I asked if I could try using one of the ribbons, and you know what? I did pretty OK… NOT! It was great to meet that many people in a relaxed environment like it was. If you’re looking for a friendly group of people, head up North to Vacaville! It was a great little jewel box of a theatre, and well worth the visit.
Thank you, Desiree, thank you Kim, thank you Vacaville! Hi, Tonish from Milwaukee! Thank you!