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 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. Love, Al
- posted ON 11.20.13 AT 10:52 AM
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!
In a husky voice, just after his last set, in the fall of 19??, Dizzie sings to a pretty customer from the bar just leaving the club, “La-dee-da… Sco-po-jee-bee-ya… ‘Tis autumn.” So when I joined Stanley Clarke on stage during his set to sing Autumn Leaves in tribute to George Duke (George and Stanley and I have even done that song just the three of us in Moscow), I couldn’t help saying this little fall greeting to the audience. The guys in the band have heard me sing that song a lot.
WELL, it is autumn again. Kids are back in school and yesterday I saw an enormous pumpkin at my local market that primary school kids can do a ‘Guess-Its-Weight’ Contest. The pumpkin was 4.5 feet tall, and 4 feet wide, with a stem as big as an NFL football. I can’t believe it… In a minute it will be Thanksgiving, and that means Christmas is just a short winter’s nap and an eye wink away. For most of you reading this, it works the same for you, this time-warp works the same way.
I am so loving this harvest season with big, fat full moons and produce sections with fall colors. Stanley and I try to bring some flavor of that in our evening with this “homecoming” audience in Fresno– “Homecoming” because I’m almost a native Californian, and other Californians know that even when I’m way ‘over there’ somewhere, I’m gonna return bearing gifts and singing to my friends and neighbors again.
Now having said that, I have not been to Fresno in a many years. And I’ve never been to Vacaville, or Downey, CA, either. But I will before the month is over. Rejoice, rejoice! New friends, new audience. What a concept!!
Darren and Errol are some energetic young promoters who are determined to continue the well-known wonderful tradition of bringing jazzish sounds to long-time listeners and new ones alike. What a concept! (As my wife would say, “Duh!”) We’ll continue our new friendship when we go to Oakland on October 25th, a date that we’ll share with Stanley again, as well as Joe Sample, Norman Brown, and others.
What a night in Fresno. Lots of new faces. But lots of old friends, too. And that’s the kind of set we played, with music that would be real new for newcomers, and comfortable listens for people who go back to the We’re In This Love Together and Boogie Down days. And the new kids will say, “Oh! That’s an Al Jarreau song?” The new listens for everybody are “Double Face,” Chris Walker on “Heal A Broken Heart,” “Random Act of Love,” “Puddit” in a doo-wop quartet, and “Heart’s Horizon.” Wow, I’m proud of this program.
The show went off with enthusiasm flowing downhill and onto the stage from the audience that sat in a beautiful carved out amphitheatre. As the show was nearing the end, a woman came down front and wanted a picture. I had to lie flat on the stage to get my head low enough to be in the frame! Never before in my life has that happened. It was new and special for me and for the audience. (Don’t try this at home, it’s hard to get up!)
It was a great drive up and drive back visiting Fresno. Thanks Darren and Errol, thanks Sheree the M.C., thanks everybody!
It’s been a while, but… I have played the Grand Ole Opry AND the Wild Horse Saloon, ya know. Not this time, though. We played the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.
We start sound check at 11:30. Ouch! Everyone’s pleasant and accounted for, and we make some nice fixes and additions and subtractions from our symphony arrangements. Larry Baird, our conductor, and Chris and I and Joe Turano had talked last week about about some changes that would improve the program. We previewed all that before the orchestra arrived, and had a really smooth almost flawless orchestra rehearsal. Lots of smiles and “Welcome back!”s.
We thanked them for having us back at Schermerhorn Hall, just a few years after our first time here with the Symphony when the hall had just opened. Nashville is surely the Capital of the world for country music since the beginning, and now it is arguably the hottest music community of any sort in the world. Music people from all over the country are headin’ for Nashville. And when you perform here, you do it as though it’s Paris or Berlin. Somebody’s watchin’ you. So cross your fingers and hold your heart and pray really hard. And doing it with a symphony adds a boatload more wonderings and questions.
We’ve got a lot of guests on the way today: Agency friends, symphony donors, and lots of friends and OH yes. A sweet little high school music journalist that I chatted with. She and her mom brought brownies and pound cake (mmmmmm good).
Wow, there was a lot of grinning going on, which was the whole idea, I said. Be serious about the music and doing it well, but be just as serious about having fun with the music in which singing along is essential, and hearing familiar music now enriched with an orchestra is really some jaw-dropping fun… And an orchestra so in the middle of Spain, and Boogie Down, with strings and horns. And it’s so fun to mess with the late arrivers…
An intermission program makes for a really full evening with the audience, and everyone was so tuned in and excited throughout the whole thing. At the end of the regular performance, we did a great off-the-cuff trio version of Roof Garden that, surprise surprise, began with me and Mark doing vocal percussion head to head on one mic, right at his drum kit, with him still sitting there. What a great find to be able to go to some funk at the end of a symphony evening. The people got it. And that’s really satisfying to be able to come to that conclusion, to know that the people got it. As I said earlier, this is like having a good night at The Olympia in Paris or the Berlin Symphony Hall or Capella Sistina in Rome. If prayers are part of your thing, these are special prayers.
AND SO, thank you, Nashville. AND Thank you Nashville Symphony. Keep playing alternatives for the people. You are special and wonderful, and you were especially generous and kind to me. Maybe I’ll see you over on Broadway!
Tennessee. Greenest State in the Land of the Free. Written into a song about a Tennessean Favorite Son named Davy Crockett. And it’s easy to agree with. We just spent a lovely weekend in two cities in Tennessee: Greeneville and Nashville. And you might have heard me say that I’m ready to return tomorrow.
There is a man who is married to Nikki Niswonger by the name of Scott Niswonger. They’re gonna love that description of themselves. Well, they indeed have known each other since high school. Scott started a trucking company with a partner over 30 years ago, 2 trucks that grew (no, exploded) into a behemoth freight giant that’s better than world class and quality, and which has created financial fortunes over and over. Their joy in life for the past couple of decades has been to “return” to the community.
Currently, there are a couple of state-of-the-art performing arts centers bearing the Niswonger name. We played a 1200-seater. But even more significant are their efforts in the arena of education. Not only are there schools and facilities that they have built, but they have pioneered some educational programs and techniques that are game-changing, like developing a program that has high school seniors graduating with a two-year Associates Degree from local colleges, so that when they attend that or another university, they will only have 2 years of studies in order to complete their undergraduate degree. That’s phenomenal. Washington is having a close hard look at this. Scott says we’re simply following a model that is so obvious. “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic.” Make sure the kids get the basics while they’re still in elementary school. And then he adds another element founded in department of education studies which determined that one of the major reasons for kids dropping out in high schools is boredom and a disconnect between what they’re studying and what they think they’ll need in life.
And so, the Niswonger group studies and finds out what a young student’s interests and goals are, whether technical/scientific, artistic/social, or otherwise, and helps that student pursue those particular subjects of interest. They don’t drop out. This is significant work. Now add to that the restoration of a 19th century historic hotel in Greeneville with beautifully restored crown molding and wainscoting, pine wood banisters and brass railings, and hallways with wonderfully carved oakwood furniture from the same period. These are special people, Scott and Nikki. I told them I want to come and do an internship with them. I’ll serve the coffee. Their motto is: “Learn, Earn, and Return.” I told them they should do some sort of seminar program for corporate executives who feel the need for some enlightenment in that genre.
The night before our show, we saw Marc Broussard, a funky R&B group from New Orleans headed up by Marc, who could be Dr. John’s nephew. It was great, we got a chance to say hello backstage after their set.
It was a beautiful rainy fall football afternoon in Tennessee, and when we arrived at the hall, there was Scott at the stage door with a great big umbrella for me and Patrick. What a guy.
I was really impressed with the visionary, renaissance, man of the world community consciousness and genuine kindness. He should be teaching ethics at Yale and Harvard big schools. The other guys are failing the nation and Western society that looks at and emulates America. They should be fired for the kind of business leaders they’ve produced, who steal retirement funds and won’t pay taxes. And guess what? Half of Congress would declare these good people to be enemies of the state and the Public System.
Everyone around us said that the audience was full of people from across county lines and state lines. All I know is that they were so beautiful to me. They let us be loud and frenetic in some moments and then whispery soft in others. I got the sense that they were surprised at how much cross-section and variety they could get in one evening… All the way from Turano’s firey tenor and soprano sobs to John Calderon’s acoustic chamber guitar gentleness. And they oo-ed and ah-ed when Chris sang his sweet ballad. They they stood up and clapped in time for Puddit Doo Wop and Funkified Roof Garden.
We keep finding new audiences and making new friends whenever we can. Grateful, too! Wow! That was really refreshing. I’ve been thinking of how to get back to Greeneville on a relaxing visit. It’s picturesque like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, and reminds me of Ripon College where I went to school, except no hills. You can drive from one end of town to the other in five minutes. I’m working on it. For sure let’s do some music again. In the meantime, a deep bow at the waist and hats off to Greeneville. You’re one of a kind and wonderful. Thanks for everything, Nikki and Scott! Signed coffee mugs, too. Bye, y’all! Nashville, here we come!