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 don’t know about the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, you really should look it up for all its glorious details. But for short, Thelonious Monk III, Maria Fisher, and Clark Terry created it in 1986 for the purpose of furthering the legacy of jazz by finding and educating young musicians and singers. Amazingly, they have also partnered with the United Nations to put on an international Jazz Day. Each year, on April 30, over 80 nations around the world celebrate jazz, and its contribution and influence. I’ve been blessed to be a part of International Jazz day for a few years now. Last April, we were in Paris. A couple of years before, we were in Istanbul. Herbie Hancock is Chairman of the Board and is an eloquent spokesman for the group. This year, along with featuring a wonderful group of singers in competition, the institute did a tribute to Quincy Jones, with a large audience with a 20 piece band directed and rehearsed by John Beasley at Dolby Theater, in Hollywood. Anyone has to say that this is a wonderful upscale undertaking that really does jazz proud, for its wonderful importance and significance. We did the preliminary judging at UCLA basking in the sunshine and glow of one of the great universities on the planet. All for jazz! I can’t say enough about the whole affair, and it would take too long if I could. Just try to believe me when I say that you’d have totally impressed with this year’s group of singers, taught and tutored by a cadre of well known professionals, including Kenny Burrel. They were amazing… knocked my socks off. There were singers in this class who are already singing at a high quality professional level. It’s too bad that the competition forces us to pick one winner, and a second and third place place finalist, but in doing so we are also rewarding these leaders with valuable scholarships. Each of the judges wishes we could do it for all of the contestants. The semifinals we on Saturday, we had the finals of the singing competition on Sunday, along the tribute to Quincy Jones, featuring appearances and comments by actor/director/singer Seth McFarlane, Jeff Goldblum, Billy D. Williams, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Freddy Cole, Patti Austin, Deedee Bridgewater, Luciana Souza, and myself. I did a duet with Gretchen Parlato (a recent winner of the vocal competition), of “Human Nature,” one of Quincy’s massive musical successes. All in all, this was a magnificent two day celebration of jazz and the legacy of jazz, with its special contribution of improvisation, that lives even in today’s rock guitarists. Hello, Eric Clapton, and Slash, too! They took the queue from jazz to improvise. By the way, let’s not overlook the wonderful support of this event by Concord Music Group, United Airlines, and Northrup Grumman… these guys get it! And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we say “see you soon!” to the wonderful Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. This time, in Los Angeles and Hollywood, the world’s Mecca of stardom and entertainment. Smile I’ll see you next time! -Al
Los Angeles – Monk Institute Vocalists Competition
- posted ON 11.24.15 AT 06:29 PM
If you don’t know about the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, you really should look it up for all its glorious details. But for short, Thelonious Monk III, Maria Fisher, and Clark Terry created it in 1986 for the purpose of furthering the legacy of jazz by finding and educating young musicians and singers. Amazingly, they have also partnered with the United Nations to put on an international Jazz Day. Each year, on April 30, over 80 nations around the world celebrate jazz, and its contribution and influence.
I’ve been blessed to be a part of International Jazz day for a few years now. Last April, we were in Paris. A couple of years before, we were in Istanbul. Herbie Hancock is Chairman of the Board and is an eloquent spokesman for the group. This year, along with featuring a wonderful group of singers in competition, the institute did a tribute to Quincy Jones, with a large audience with a 20 piece band directed and rehearsed by John Beasley at Dolby Theater, in Hollywood. Anyone has to say that this is a wonderful upscale undertaking that really does jazz proud, for its wonderful importance and significance. We did the preliminary judging at UCLA basking in the sunshine and glow of one of the great universities on the planet. All for jazz!
I can’t say enough about the whole affair, and it would take too long if I could. Just try to believe me when I say that you’d have totally impressed with this year’s group of singers, taught and tutored by a cadre of well known professionals, including Kenny Burrel. They were amazing… knocked my socks off.
There were singers in this class who are already singing at a high quality professional level. It’s too bad that the competition forces us to pick one winner, and a second and third place place finalist, but in doing so we are also rewarding these leaders with valuable scholarships. Each of the judges wishes we could do it for all of the contestants. The semifinals we on Saturday, we had the finals of the singing competition on Sunday, along the tribute to Quincy Jones, featuring appearances and comments by actor/director/singer Seth McFarlane, Jeff Goldblum, Billy D. Williams, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Freddy Cole, Patti Austin, Deedee Bridgewater, Luciana Souza, and myself. I did a duet with Gretchen Parlato (a recent winner of the vocal competition), of “Human Nature,” one of Quincy’s massive musical successes. All in all, this was a magnificent two day celebration of jazz and the legacy of jazz, with its special contribution of improvisation, that lives even in today’s rock guitarists. Hello, Eric Clapton, and Slash, too! They took the queue from jazz to improvise.
By the way, let’s not overlook the wonderful support of this event by Concord Music Group, United Airlines, and Northrup Grumman… these guys get it!
And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we say “see you soon!” to the wonderful Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. This time, in Los Angeles and Hollywood, the world’s Mecca of stardom and entertainment. Smile
I’ll see you next time!
Chugga-Chugga-Chugga-Chugga-Choo-Choo! “Roll on, Milwaukee Road!”
Of course you know that song, I wrote it! It comes from the “Glow” album. The song is about me, the train, that was born in Milwaukee. Born out of my mama’s dreams.
So, anyway, I returned for a second time within two months to do a fundraiser for Gathering on the Green, and for the Tom Cheeks Scholarship Fund. Tom Cheeks was a brilliant teacher and adviser, who mentored and impacted several generations of students, educators, politicians, and mothers and fathers and families. It’s his legacy that we honor with this scholarship to educate teachers who commit to teaching in the Milwaukee system for at least five years. I, and scores of other young people, went on to collages and universities because of him.
I’ve sung other times at Gathering on the Green- a group that reaches lots of marginalized kids in center city, and other similar neighborhoods in the Milwaukee area. GOTG works to support STEAM programs in the schools… Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. As the public school district cut back on their coverage these very important subjects, somebody has to fill the void. That is Gathering on the Green’s mission… to help these kids have a chance.
A wonderful connection that you can call coincidence, serendipity, or the hand of God- that Beth is from the Harold Samson family. Papa Harold owned the Red Carpet Inn, where I sang as college student with the Les Czimber Trio, getting my feet wet on the first steps of the yellow brick road. And here we are, nearly fifty years later, meeting this way and under these circumstances, and thrilled to the bone. Rob, Beth and her team sent invitations to a wonderfully precious and select group of enlightened, community-minded heavy hitters, who have been friendly to the needy through the years. The situation and circumstances of that evening were wonderfully special, and cozy and warm. GOTG talked to the Ouzakee County Country Club, and found some open hearts that offered us their banquet room, with a full bar, which was elegant and relaxed at the same time. We talked early on and decided to make the appearance especially intimate and personal, by my performing as a duo with Joe Turano (Also from Milwaukee!). Joe’s been in the touring band for almost 15 years now, and we have just started performing as a duo. New stuff that shows a real close up view to what I am and what I do. It’s different, and it was a smash!!! People saw and heard things, in a different way, than ever before. And we raised a nice chunk of money, too.
A reception followed the performance, and it was fabulous, to say the least, to be here, at home, on an occasion like this. I looked up and saw John Givens and Auggie Ray, class of ’55 Lincoln High School (The first group of Tom’s Kids – Tom Cheeks). I almost yelled in surprise. When you have friends like this, there’s a secret, somewhere deep in the smiles and greetings, that is worth a billion dollars. GAWD I love that! Anyway, when you see Rob and Beth, tell them to pass along my thanks and gratitude to all the guests, and staff of the country club.
Oh, you Buckeyes! How I love you Buckeyes! And yes, I know what a Buckeye is, it’s more than a football team. Way bigger than a chestnut. Oops, sorry! Just havin’ fun. Fact: I know for sure that I’ve played more dates in the state of Ohio during my career than in any other state in the union. Fact: As Ohio goes, so goes the nation in so far as big important elections, while the hawkeyes of Iowa are right in there too. But their total population doesn’t approach the total population of Ohio voters and there’s a huge number of people from that population who have been Jarreau fans since the first record. They’ve come to concerts at Bogarts, Tri-City Jazz Festival, Ohio Theatre… etc …, oh, you Buckeyes, indeed! *See foot note*
Each and every time I’ve come to Cincinnati, I find myself exclaiming to myself, “Wow, they did it! They saved their down town! They kept their wonderful solid structures from the city’s early beginnings, including red brick warehouses, and lovely great buildings that housed the first businesses office buildings and department stores and restaurants and shops. They saved it!!!” And it feels so good to drive through down town and see PEOPLE! People going about their wonderful day of going to and from work, popping into a coffee shop, or John’s Hamburger Joint, which has been there for 50 years. This scene is disappearing in America. But ongratulations, Cincinnati- you did it, I love you for that. It makes me feel so good and reassured.
That’s what I felt last night, when I drove into town. When we got to the hotel, I saw Jackie, who surprised me and the guys. She is a very lovely wonderful rep. from the hotel’s front office. Her enthusiasm is so warm and gracious, that it really overflows. And then when I went to my room, I looked out my window and “glory be,” there below me, was ice skating rink like Rockefeller Center Plaza in New York. I shouted to Brian, my assistant, “Look at that!” He smiled and also said, “wow.” Brian is from California and seeing people ice skate before his eyes was quite something; on the other hand, it transports me to a time in Milwaukee, when I was in grade school, and junior high school, and was at a skating rink just like this. Not as fancy, they flooded the baseball field at Garfield Park, where they even had a pavilion where you could get a hot chocolate and warm up.
Show Day! I took a quick peek out the window, just to be sure the skating rink was still there. It was. And we headed off to sound check.
And there it was again, the spirit of Cincinnati! An old theater that’s been saved and kept functioning, AND this one’s with me and Jeffrey Osborne. One of you rascals out there is reading this and thinking, “yeah Al, old things still functioning.” And you’re right! You better believe it, baby. Bring your mama, bring your papa, we gonna do it for real. No lip-syncing, no pre-recorded anything. Real people doing it for real, with a happy healthy intention.
As I start singing “Mornin’,” I know that out there, somewhere, is some Sam Moore, from grade school and junior high school, and high school, and he was just in Milwaukee in the front row, with Jesse Nixon, and Willy Luster three weeks ago. I smile inside and feel warm and good. When he smiles and calls back to me, “yeah, Al, I’m here!”
I could hear Jeffrey and the audience from my dressing me, and believe me, the place was on fire. Jeffrey hits hard, folks. He’s got a big voice, with great range, and almost sounds classically trained with a funky edge. He’s a friend of George Duke’s, too. He sang on my new George Duke celebration record.
When we sang “My Old Friend,” I was kind of peeking over my shoulder to see if Jeffrey would come over and sing with me as he did on the record. Nope, not this time, but that did not stop me and the band from just “killing it” on this new sensitive arrangement of “My Old Friend.” Oh, by the way, check this out, here’s one for you, “My Old Friend” was written by the same guys who wrote “Nita Koo”: I will be here for you. Richard Paige and Steve George, originally from Pages, who became Mister Mister, and they are, in fact, a couple of blue-eyed, blonde haired “valley boys”, from Los Angeles. Don’t ya love it? You should.
We’ve returned to “We Got By,” and “Midnight Sun,” these days, and here is another audience that is right with us in lovin’ it all. That causes other stuff to sparkle, like old “Roof Garden,” and “Boogie Down.” We bowed a long time and headed for the lobby, to sign CD’s and autographs. This was a long one, but way cool that people are buying lots of CD’s after concerts. You can’t walk into a record store anymore. What a loss, but how wonderful tonight that we can sell CD’s right here after the gig. Great to say hi to Sam Moore and his son, who looks exactly like Sam, big broad smile, great spirit and attitude. We also said hi to Jackie’s son, all grown up now… 13 or 14, smile. So thank you again, Cincinnati, happy holidays, every day is Thanksgiving.
*Fact: I went to school at University of Iowa’s rehabilitation counseling program; however, I’ve only played three or four times in Iowa (all at the university) in my career since I started recording and touring.
I love this time of year, which begins a four month long Christmas Eve Holiday season, that includes the golden harvest season, pumpkin orange, THANKS GIVING, Christmas carols and Christmas shopping, Christmas trees, the smell of nutmeg and cinnamon, and good things in the oven the night before Christmas. Now that’s a Christmas Eve!!! And of course, if you’re preparing some sort of Christmas Performance, you immediately begin practicing the day you get back to school, in September.
I’m so happy we did a lot of dates back East and in New England this fall. We watched the leaves turn and jackets and scarves come out of the closet.
I’ve found myself these days, talking to some new audiences. And I love that. I’m finally getting to some New England destinations for the first time, and feeling a long overdue satisfaction. New England people are a special breed, just like mid westerners, and Californians, and New Yorkers. I won’t try to describe the long list of specialnesses that set you apart from everyone else in the world, but the specialnesses are pretty fabulous, and will surely include clam chowder and evergreens. We rolled into Cranston around 12:30pm. Driving into Cranston, you say, “Oh, yes, this is America today. This is a great look at wonderful, beautiful middle class america!” Unvarnished, needing a few repairs, and a paint job, but it is in large part who we are. It’s who I am, and what I came from. Many of these people have a reliable old lunch pail at home, that helped pay college tuitions, and made us “upwardly mobile,” doing better than our moms and dads. God bless our hearts when they showed up that night. I could see them, as I stood there in the wings, waiting to begin, and I was so proud to be here my people!
Our first time here. But when we hit the stage, it felt like we were old friends returning home. Hey, that’s the greatest and it’s happening a lot these days, as we meet new audiences for the first time, and play and sing with them the stuff they’ve been listening to for thirty years. That experience occupies a special place in audience reactions and response that is really quite unlike anything else. Excuse the elaboration and oversimplification, but that audience situation is different than playing and performing, in front of an audience that sees me every sixteen months. There’s an “at last” sigh and response, that is a thing unto itself!
I’m remembering now pictures lining the backstage walls of Engelbert Humperdinck, The Wailers, Tower of Power, Boney James, Stanley Jordan, etc. They must have had the same reaction, including, “Wow, I can’t believe it! Let’s call the agency and get booked again as soon as possible.”
Well that was my reaction too. They rocked in their seats, and danced on their feets. And they pull encores out of me and the band as we stood with eyebrows raised to the hairline in surprise to this fantastic reaction. All grins and smiles.
Some people in the first row even had brought pristine LP’s of “Breakin’ Away,” “High Crime,” and “Look to the Rainbow,” that I did quick signatures on from stage. Later we did an hour long CD signing in the lobby. And that was great fun, really enjoyable. Here it was again, that sigh of “at last.” I could really feel it, y’all.
So I said, I’m looking forward to getting back to Cranston, and I’m grateful and thankful to my new found friends there. You really did spread the word about me very early on. Stay tuned and I’ll see you soon!
Two weeks ago, I did some press and radio, and talked about an upcoming fundraising concert, for a group called Christian Community Action, which is in fact a “people helping people” notion and idea, in action. They are a model organization.
An excellent formatted approach that could be copied and taught around the country. They have Reverend Bonita Grubbs, who is the smart and powerful chairman. “The engine” who thought it all up, and put this together, more than twenty years ago. She manages to bring together and galvanize grass roots people, and professionals, and enlightened successful business executives (who realize that when the people in the community are ok and doing well, they will support and bring dollars to anyone that has a product to sell). CCA says, “we provide housing, health, and hope.”
All of the above happened two weeks ago. Well, last night, we drove from Boston to New Haven, passing through some little towns, but mostly rural country side. Suddenly, like “snap your finger” magic, we were in this little well kept New England town, with shops and store fronts. One traffic light, a small church, and people scurrying around, in the evening hustle and bustle, as though it were the week before Christmas. Not realizing where we really were, I said out loud, “what an amazing little town. It feels so good.” That’s when it dawned on me that we were, in fact, New Haven, Connecticut… Yale University. No wonder! I had some how totally disconnected Yale from New Haven. And maybe the connection was never very strong, as I’m one of those Mid West guys, now living in California.
“Let’s go to the next morning,” I looked out my window, at the grassy quadrangle, in the center of campus, with it’s familiar X like walking paths… so gorgeous now, in autumn, with leaves turning to gold, red, and orange. The buildings were stately red brick and stone structures, that truly are, in fact, covered with ivy. There’s an old church steeple, in fact, too, right on campus. In my mind, I could hear their bells, peeling at vesper.
Abra Cadabra! Well, here it was, the model for the great classic “halls of ivy” universities campuses. The model for all of America, and patterned after the great universities of Europe. This is Ivy League! The famed Ivy League. Looking at it, you see Notre Dame, and UC Berkley, U of I (Indiana or Illinois), this is the model. Even my little Alma Mater “Ripon”. As quadrangle crosswalks surrounded by red brick buildings with ivy, and a nearby church steeple. Classic, dignified, stately! And this university is certainly one of the wealthiest communities, business or educational in the world.
Abra Cadabra! Moments later, as we drove to sound check, a whole new reality came crashing in on me. In the really small center of town, there were homeless people, looking disheveled, needing a bath, food, and a place to sleep. IT’S EVERYWHERE! This is downtown Detroit, this is downtown Chicago, this is downtown Miami, it’s everywhere. The homeless, the unemployed, the sick, and tonight we would do a benefit concert for Reverend Bonita Grubbs. The Reverend, Ms. Grubbs, who speaks to the very obvious and apparent community of marginalized Americans. All of this today was predicted by what she saw then. It’s everywhere. In short, these are symptoms of a really broad failing at the highest levels of thinking and planning and concern, and believe me, it has trickled down.
But boy, oh boy, we had a wonderful time, playing and singing music together, and truly rejoicing in our certainty of direction, as we celebrated this notion of people helping people.
Local DJ, Ed Tankus from Blue Plate Radio, the gentleman I had talked to two weeks prior was there, smiling like a proud papa. He gets it, and got it.
The band played their hearts out, and the audience stood and cheered, and we had a meet and greet on the balcony of the theater. We even talked about doing this again next year, I said, “Call me!”
We just finished up a week in Montreux, Switzerland, home of the Jazz Fest founded by Claude Nobs. Last year was the first year of their Academy, and that makes what we are taking part in here the second in what will surely be a long-running tradition. Montreux is distinguishing itself as one of the few festivals that has an associated academy for young jazz musicians. Let me explain: When they say “Academy,” they make no attempt to put together a curriculum like a Berklee, Juilliard, North Texas State, Indiana, etc. This is more of a weeklong workshop where young musicians spend time with more established musicians, or mentors, who offer advice, tips, and critiques of current level skills, with notions of how to improve.
Each of the young musicians here—I hesitate to call them ‘students’—is the winner of a Montreux Jazz competition, whether vocal, guitar, or piano. There are meetings during the week with the mentors and students, and based on what mentors hear them doing during rehearsals for an end-of-week public performance, we can offer suggestions on how to build their skills and continue toward their next level of profession. I worked with 5 other mentors, and one of them, Joe Sanders, is a bass player from guess where—Milwaukee. I couldn’t believe it. Joe Turano, Joe Sanders, and me, three jazzers, three kids from Milwaukee, had all found our way to Montreux the same week. Could not believe it.
And then there was the setting for the week: Amazing! I looked out my window across the lake at the mountains, with snow-capped peaks in the far distance, and said “Wow.”
Then, I looked out my window and directly down, and saw the beautiful modern structure with a prominent sign on it that read, “Miles Davis Hall.” It has a large auditorium and a smaller 200 seat clubbish kind of venue. In the world, there may somewhere be another concert hall or venue dubbed with the name Miles Davis or a similar colleague like a Duke Ellington… some such place. But shoot, I’ve been a lot of places in my life and I’ve never seen one. So I have to marvel at how far this truly American form of music called ‘jazz’ has come. Well, we all know for sure that Jazz is not enjoying the likes of its biggest heydays, but on the other hand, I’m forced to throw my head back and laugh with Miles and Dizz and the Duke and the Count and Trane and Parker about how far the form and genre has come.
Joe Turano, my music director, and Patrick Lundquist and I were invited to this heavenly haven for Jazz, on a totally different continent from where it was born. There are people in neighboring countries and continents who have found something so compelling in the joyousness and happy interaction of musicians and audience, amongst themselves and between themselves. This has served to take Jazz far beyond the juke joints and dark alleys of New Orleans and St. Louis. I’m thrilled at that realization and knowledge.
We’ve been hearing some young jazz guitarists and pianists who are already playing at a real high professional level with technical brilliance and genius on the one hand, and at the same time improvise freely with new notions and ideas. And the singers have blown me away. I can’t sing the things that they’re singing. We’ve had some intimate heart to heart chats that had all of us in tears. Joe Turano and I have especially talked about this ‘getaway’ occasion for delving deep into the music away from the maddening world and normal life, and their demands. Sure enough it has not been that wonderful occasion to work exclusively on our own music, but this hangout with students who are doing that with us looking on with 5 other mentors does truly and certainly bring some serious satisfactions and joys.
The Academy student group is all housed together in a building called Maison Waddilove. They work on music from sunup to sundown, and beyond. They help each other to make their compositions expand and explode in the performing situation with new notions and ideas. The singers are singing violinish-like solo lines, winding, weaving, way too high. But they magically make the songs and compositions what they should be. I’m constantly marveling. From the first performance to the second performance in one evening, we saw a leap in confidence and comfort, and spontaneity that blew everybody’s minds. They themselves were blown away at this magical stuff called music. I am certain that the audience was transformed. And that’s a marvelous thing.
When something happens that makes you feel good, feel better, makes you smile and laugh, some say you experience a little bit of healing. If you get a chance to be part of that, don’t hesitate. If the Academy had any questions about the importance of this venture, I’m sure they’re finding really good answers to those questions just seeing the glow on everybody’s faces and the twinkle in their eyes.
This five-day week was drawing to a close, and we wondered where the time had gone to, and wished it could go on and on. This comes with some melancholy and sadness, but that in itself is a good description of how profoundly moving it was. I’m reassured, and different than I was when I came here, even having mornings where I awoke before dawn, hearing musical lines and singing them into my tape recorder and THEN ordering coffee, because this would be an early morning wakeup for me. I did not attend the late night jam sessions—That’s a little too much for me—but Patrick, who’s writing music himself, didn’t miss a thing, and sure enough ended up writing lyrics for that violinish singing part by the Hungarian pianist, and still another composition by the Brazilian guitarist. How totally unexpected. And somebody should say now: “That’s the magic of music.”
I could go on and on, but I’ll finish with one last thought having to do with how much the mentoring role has expanded my thinking about instructing and teaching and commenting, especially about the ‘cardiology effect’ of this music stuff, and the inevitable super-sensitizing consequence and outcome of this art form. You’ll be writing those Christmas cards that say Joy and Peace and Goodwill to Men and Women and Neighbors and Children and Friends and Immigrants. I am happy, and I give a great big thank you to Joe Turano for coming with me, and discussing with me so many things during this whole week. Same goes for Patrick. What a surprise.
Thank you, Montreux Jazz Foundation, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s so important.
Fort Lauderdale! Oh, Fort Lauderdale!
Maybe you can guess, this has some special other connotations that go beyond the normal. Especially for people in the snow-bound Midwest, there’s an almost paradise-like notion that is associated with that resort destination. And even more for kids who’ve been in school during a chilly fall and cold winter, who are approaching Spring Break, and have scrounged up enough dimes and quarters and dollars for a plane or train ride and four or five days stay in a motel with eight or ten other people eating peanut butter and crackers… Hanging out on a beach all day, and guzzling beer at night—Paaaarty!
I’m gonna date myself here, you guys, and ask you if you ever saw a movie called “Where the Boys Are” that starred Connie Francis. She in fact sang the title song of that film, of the same name. The bikini was new, and young people were exploring a new freedom that never existed in the generations before. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Black leather jackets, motorcycles, drag racing, etc., etc. This was a part of that culture for recent and current history buffs who might enjoy Warhol and Woody Allen, etc.—There is some special meaning here.
I got it and get it, even though I was a young black kid from center city who would have observed all of this from the fringes except that I went to school at a very white liberal arts college in the middle of Wisconsin, and was in the middle of that culture. And so, since my first concerts here at the Sunrise Theater in the late 70s, I have carried around with me all these pictures in my mind, however accurate or inaccurate they are, about another reality of Fort Lauderdale. A few days ago, I asked the question of a local crewmember who was driving us from the hotel to the gig, about whether Fort Lauderdale today is still a Spring Break destination city, and she said, “Oh yes!” That kind of satisfied my mind that I wasn’t too far away from the truth.
The sharp contrasting reality is that one of my most recent visits, around 5 years ago, was at the Hard Rock Café arena. It was a wonderful cross-cultural night. This time, we performed at a newly renovated Performing Arts Center venue, with comfortable and beautiful features including red velvet seats, three balconies, gleaming brass railings and fixtures, and a house full of people ready to party—The first row within sweating distance!
Tonight it would be me and Jeffrey Osborne with our individual bands. That alone is pretty hot stuff, y’all. Jeffrey and I both realize that we are amongst a rare breed of “adult music performers” who have continually been booked and are still performing regularly, despite the fact that we are not filling giant 20,000 seat arenas with screaming teenage girls. All this goes through my mind as I am standing in the wings and peaking out, soon to go on stage.
This audience welcomed us with great enthusiasm and appreciation that was quite adult-like, but still had a youthful fervor about it.
I reminded them that we were in fact celebrating the staying power of this kind of music. And I thanked them for their love and loyalty “after all these years.” And it was in that context that we shared some George Duke music and classics of mine. I continually pointed out that “This is live!” and talked directly to folks in the audience, saying this kind of interaction is the great joy of live performance.
Speaking of live performance! One of the great moments of the evening, even of this year of touring was when in the middle of “My Old Friend,” the title song for the latest album, my old friend Jeffrey Osborne surprised us all and showed up and sang the second verse as a solo! This was such a fun moment, especially because we had no idea he was going to come do it—What a great special drop-in! We had a lot of fun and even shared a microphone. The audience loved it. And so did I.
A few of my other favorite memories from this show: There was a couple that showed up late—Boy did I have fun with those folks. There was a man in a white suit who has shown up here and there before, and so I pointed him out and shouted a greeting. And then of course, the young couple, mid-20s, directly in front of me; the wife was especially pretty with a Billie Holliday-ish flower in her hair. I took that opportunity to talk to several other people in the front of the hall. This always make the evening stand out for me.
I hope I’m right in being reassured about this brand of music continuing to be attractive to a new 2015 generation of listeners, who, of course include lots of people over 35 and 40.
Well, you can be sure that I’ll be continuing to record and perform my brand. Thanks for coming everybody! See you in Norfolk! (Sleep fast, it’s an early wakeup!)
From time to time, and thank God it’s not real often, we have some really demanding 24 hour segments of travel and performing. We got up at 6:30 in the morning after last night’s show, and went to the airport for an early departure. We flew to Norfolk arriving a little after 1pm, with no real point in stopping at the hotel for an hour. So instead, we went directly to the venue, loaded up on coffee (and sugar), and did our sound check. And for me, it made much more sense to stay at the hall rather than return to the hotel for an almost-but-not-quite rest that would result in less energy onstage.
Jeffrey and I and both bands were high-fiving and grinning about the previous night and took all that good energy to stage in Norfolk. This is a serious music community which lots of musicians and performers and veterans and new ones alike continue to refer to the Hampton Roads Jazz Festival community. That festival has been a longstanding tradition and dates back close to thirty years. Any and everybody in the Jazz/R&B community appeared at that wild and wonderful arena that held thousands of people. Sometimes the sound was not so great, but the feeling was always fabulous.
In spite of a short night’s sleep and airplane flight, we got started on time, and I could hear Jeffrey and his band just a-rompin’ and stompin’ and raucous-ing through their program of 15 or 20 hits.
The audience seemed not to have tired at all and carried their enthusiasm over to a loud welcome for the band and me. We as a band found ourselves picking up on that energy and enthusiasm that was buzzing in the auditorium, expanding on it with our own program. The audience had had a 20-minute break and intermission for set change, but their excitement carried over with no fatigue factor. I can still hear that little voice in my head that remarked to me, “This is wonderful!”
We surely have found some new places and spaces in Take Five and Roof Garden and other favorites. Maybe I’m especially aware of off-the-cuff verbal communications with audience people these days because we’re back in America with English speaking audience who get the subtle details. Here again tonight I talked to a lady to my left in a black and white dress with audience applauding her, and several other nearby who caught my eye.
Talking and chatting about the Celebrating George Duke tribute record brought oo’s and ah’s, because this audience had seen and heard George do bebop and pop and hip-bustin’ funk.
We blazed through our set, and the audience especially responded to We’re in This Love Together, even singing along. What a fun time—
And then, I got to go meet some people in the back of the auditorium, to sign some CDs. I was so happy to see such a long line of folks, and I shouted to the back, “I’m comin’!” They filed through, and finally got to the back of the line after an hour. It’s so special to get to meet folks face to face, and kiss some hands and shake some babies! They feel it, too. I don’t always have CDs to sign at the show, but when I do, it’s a nice treat to get to meet people.
Fun, much too quick visit to Norfolk. Let’s do it again!
I’m headed to Santiago, Chile to meet a new audience—That’s cool.
Chilly in Chile!
We are in the airport about to leave Santiago, looking out at the same snow-capped mountains I could see from my window at the hotel. It reminds me of the old documentaries we would watch over the projector in elementary school in Milwaukee SIXTY years ago! “Up! Way up, high in the Andes Mountains of South America!” It captured my imagination then, and seeing them in person is wonderful.
This is my first time in Chile, and of course first time in the capital city of Santiago. Just a week ago, there was a huge earthquake that even made our news in Los Angeles. It was an 8.4, a really big one. And the crazy thing is… You wouldn’t even guess it. The people were happy, the city looked totally fine, and you couldn’t find so much as a crack in the sidewalk. Some serious engineering went into the creation of these buildings to make them earthquake proof. Very impressive work.
When we got off the plane a few days ago, we were all struck by how chilly it was in Chile! This is way far south in South America, and in the Southern Hemisphere, we are coming out of the winter months, and going into Spring. We had a day of rest before the show, and I needed it, and I took it! I did get to the gym, and on the day of the show, I looked out the window and saw rain, rain, rain on the windowpane! My mind immediately went to creative mode, and I was inspired by the room and the mountains and the city and the raindrops.
We got to the venue in the late afternoon and wow, what a venue! It reminded me of the great club/arena venues I would play in Europe when I was introducing myself to that continent—And it was a great reminder: These people have never seen me perform, only ever heard my music. This was a new audience in front of me, and we get to introduce my music and make some new friends. It is the kind of experience that an artist only gets to have on a few special instances in his whole career. I loved it… And so did they!
The audience was nodding their heads and dancing in their seats all night long. I could see them and hear them singing the words. And not just the chorus of “We’re In This Love Together,” but even the verses—Moonlighting, Roof Garden, Boogie Down. They were so excited to have us there, and the band fed off of it and gave it right back all night.
John Calderon especially! John found a great moment at the end of Black & Blues that he came right down front with his guitar, and sang loud, right into the same mic as me. The crowd ate it right up, and so did I. What fun. John is the only member of the band who speaks Spanish, and he felt right at home. He ALMOST wore a pair of dark James Dean Wayfarer sunglasses, but chickened out at the last minute. I won’t let him chicken out next time!
This audience really appreciated the pop hits. Your Song got big applause as the opener, Roof and High Crime, and the surprise one for me was Moonlighting. It turns out this is how a lot of people here got introduced to my music. Singing along from the start of the night to the end. I remembered all the rain outside that they all braved to get there, and started up impromptu “Singin’ In The Rain,” like a Jazz Gene Kelly. They got it! How wonderful! A big hello to Chilean jazzer Rossana, and to our wonderful promoter Jorge. What a guy, what a night!
I was so looking forward to my first visit to Chile, and I kept telling reporters, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry it took so long for me to get here.” But you know what?
It was worth the wait.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The longer you’ve been around on this planet, the more you realize how overused words like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “fantasic” are. So any discussion of any thing that involves those descriptions gets attended by red flags and flashing lights of every color. BUT! This really successful return after 30 years to the biggest music festival in the world requires some superlatives.
We played the smaller venue, and had more than 30,000 people. In 1984, the Brazilian art and music community especially made the wonderful and wise decision to make a special outreach to the world by inviting young musicians from every corner of the earth, especially rock and pop people to come and have a look at and listen to their most successful export—beyond coffee and bananas—The music and music culture of Brazil.
Until then, we knew very little beyond Carmen Miranda’s beautiful exposed midriff with a basket of fruit on her head and ‘hooleyhoo’ hands, singing a quick-paced samba, with laughing eyes. Young Brazilian musicians were fascinated by world music of every sort and were making their own outreach beyond samba and bossanova.
Personally, I should have been saying much more all along about how Brazilian music changed my life, and especially about my approach to music, and what some will consider some small legacy that I’ve been offering. My vocal percussions imitate the rhythms of Brazilian percussive instruments, often with an American backbeat.
Until 1964, I had been a Tony Bennett-type jazz singer, backed by a trio. All of that was extremely important in establishing real strong jazzy notions that culminated with the George Duke Trio at the Half Note in San Francisco between 1965 and 1968. With wide open eyes, both of us youngsters inhaled Jobim, Astrud, Mendes, the new Getz, and Brazilian culture. We were touched by the delicacies and subtleties not only in rhythms, but romantic notions of poetry and love (surely the most romantic language to sing in ever-Portuguese). And so as I told the audience last night and newspaper reporters at earlier times, I have taken you with me to Berlin and Rome and Paris, and it’s ok.
This time, I and the band were introduced by Ze Ricardo, one of the young lions of the traditional Brazilian music sound of samba and bossanova, who’s seriously reintroducing those special Brazilian roots. Moments later we were joined onstage by one of my heroes and surely a national treasure in Brazil, Marcos Valle. In 1967, started singing one of his songs, not knowing who the composer was, with my guitarist partner Julio Martinez, at Gatsby’s in Sausalito. The song was called “So Nice.” It had that gentleness and texture of “Girl From Ipanema.”
Personally for me at that time, every day of my life was Carnaval and “So Nice.” Soon I would leave my counseling career to do music full time, sink or swim. New life, new music, me and a guitar learning every Brazilian song we could. Almost reborn.
So here I was a couple of nights ago singing again a song I had sung before. Only this time, with the original composer and performer himself. All of this was a very lightheaded and dizzying kind of experience, with me standing here in front of an enormous audience of Brazilian music lovers. There was also a quick-tempo, very ‘wordy’ piece of music that I was just singing for the first time called “Crickets.” My anxiousness and nerves almost got absorbed by a big red full blood red moon that was just beginning a full eclipse. It won’t happen again for another 30 years.
Marcos and I and the band used up every available smile and laugh with a “Can you believe this?!” wonderment. This would be the first time for lots of these people to hear Take 5 and Boogie Down played live. And for many of them, it would be their first time hearing them ever at all. They had sung “I hope you don’t mind” in Your Song and now I was asking them to sing “Get my Boogie Down.” And after a couple times encouraging them, they got it with that new energy which passed easily among them as they stood shoulder to shoulder as far back as your eyes could see.
It was time to go and they were still clapping when we realized that we had time for one more. So we did We’re In This Love Together, and they even applauded the introductory instrumental part, and welcomed the opportunity to sing on the choruses. There were three jumbo screens, and a live broadcast on national Brazilian TV. Wow. Time for more superlatives!!!
Backstage was full of lots of guests and other artists, and some very important guests of mine. Junior, our promoter from last time, had a red-faced smile and grin that just glows—He was taking pride in every moment of another successful run for me in Brazil. Hello to Junior and his wonderful wife Ana Paula!
We rocked in Rio, and had a blast in Brazil. I hope we go back real soon. Obrigado!
Now, it’s off to Buenos Aires, Argentina!
Buenos Aires, Argentina
“The Paris of South America” they call it. We arrived to Buenos Aires in the middle of the night after a flight from Rio de Janeiro, and couldn’t see the architecture when we drove in. We were only amazed by the wide boulevard that we drove on to get through the city.
The next morning we awoke on show day and looked out the window to find that we were in a MAJOR port city. Out my window was a look at a very large inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, and a wonderfully bustling train yard. There were cargo trains and passenger trains and every kind of loading and unloading you can imagine. It was fun to wake up and see a beautiful sunny day filled with such great activity. My eyes especially got magnetically drawn to the great number of “Hamburg” box cars. That made an immediate connection for me to moments of the past.
I spent the day warming up, getting ready for the show night. Especially in fast visits, it’s important to have a routine: Grab some coffee, immediately start some low and slow vocalizing, gradually warming up throughout the day. Get some physical exercise in, and get packed up for the gig! The trip to the venue was particularly interesting for me.
Most typically, we will be in a hotel that is right next to the venue, or a short 5 minute drive. For whatever reason, our promoters had us playing at a performance hall that was a full hour drive from the hotel. I didn’t understand why until I got there, but that didn’t stop my assistant Patrick and me from marveling at the beauty of the different neighborhoods we drove through on the way. Recoleta, Villa Crespo, something about a Caballero— It was lighting up our imagination, the wonder of faraway places, the mystique of a foreign accent, the life of newly blooming spring flowers: My favorite time of the year!
Once we got to the venue, I understood, and the drive was worth it. The hall was newly renovated, combining state-of-the art trappings with an old-world feel. We came to find out that this was a well known, traditional theater in Buenos Aires that had hosted a long history of Argentinian stars, and international as well. So it felt like it was a hand-picked venue for me and the band. And come showtime, it was packed. I climbed up what seemed like a Tibetan monastery’s worth of stairs, finally getting to stage level from the dressing room, and the audience boomed with applause when we walked onstage.
We roared through a hit-packed set, with audience members enthusiastically singing along, and calling out requests throughout the night. I love this moment that John Calderon has found to step out of his regular formation and join me during Black & Blues. So often we as musicians get set in our ways and we need to be reminded that we are doing these shows LIVE for a reason. And it’s great moments like that that really jog you into the present— SO IMPORTANT for a performer, and for the audience.
At the end of the performance, the crowd started singing a futbol chant, over and over and over, and wouldn’t let us leave the venue without playing another one. And we figured out real quick what song they were looking for. “I can remember the rain in December, the leaves of brown on the ground.” Without any practice or preparation or planning ahead, the band whipped into Spain, and the crowd hurried right along for the ride. Really fun performance, and a very memorable FIRST visit to Argentina for me. I can not believe I have never been here before. On the other hand, we are beginning to welcome a new circumstance and phenomena in my life and career. And it is that… you guessed it. There are still new audiences to sing and play for! That’s fantastic. I’ll take as much of that as I can get. I need to get to Bangladesh… And Boise, Idaho! I know there are people in those places who know some Al Jarreau music. And hold on, I’m comin’.
The next day, just before leaving, a man named Michael stopped us on our way out of the hotel to give a gift, an incredible gift, and one worth mentioning. He has been involved with a jazz group, and arranged the Catholic Mass for big band jazz performance. Wow. What a project. And he gave me a gift of a Rosary that is not only beautiful, but blessed by none other than Pope Francis. Incredible. I’m fond of saying, you know… I’m not Catholic, but I sure think Pope Francis is saying a lot of things worth listening to. Amazing guy. Thank you, Michael, for this wonderful gift. I do, and will treasure it.
You’re right, Buenos Aires, it was too short. But we’ll be back soon, don’t you worry ‘bout a thing!
Newport Beach, California
Home to Los Angeles! Well, sort of. Newport Beach is a beautiful town on the coast about 90 minutes south of Los Angeles. They have the Newport Beach Jazz Fest here every year, and there’s a real solid group of jazz lovers all around this area. And so for me, although we’re not in downtown Los Angeles, this is my home since 1968. And sure enough, there’s an audience here who feels like relatives and family to me. And they’ve watched my life with interest and lots of love and affection. When I play anywhere in this neighborhood, it’s homecoming just like Milwaukee.
We were invited to play the Hyatt here this time, which we’ve done once before, and set up in their really intimate garden amphitheater. It’s built right into the side of a hill surrounded by the hotel and other buildings on the property.
We arrived in the morning after a 20 hour travel day from Buenos Aires, totally exhausted, and we welcomed the opportunity to sleep the rest of the day and have the night off. I even got to have a visit from my beautiful wife Susan. We so rarely get to have any visits together when I’m on the road and it made me so happy to have her there. We stayed in and ordered room service and just enjoyed each other’s company. A real highlight of this whole trip for me.
When we woke up the next day, Susan wanted some breakfast and I did something I almost never do on show day: I had a big breakfast. This hotel had a great kitchen cooking up some delicious pancakes, eggs, and charred crispy bacon, just like I like it. I sipped my coffee and enjoyed a pretty relaxed morning. Until my assistant came knocking and I was sucked right back into the reality of show day. I started my la-la-la-la-la’s, and soon we were off to sound check.
It’s always fun to do a sound check in an open air venue. You never know who’s going to pop their head out of the hotel window or come peeking around a corner to get a sneak preview of the concert. We ran a few bits of the set in our very limited time, and quickly we were off the stage, and I went off to my dressing room for more prep.
As my countdown to stage got smaller and smaller, I started to hear some marvelous music coming from the stage, floating through my dressing room window. Our opening act was a brilliant young singer named Andrea Miller. The whole band was impressed with her song selection, with her bandmates, arrangements, and her jazz sensibilities. I enjoyed listening the little bit I got to, and the band enjoyed their even closer look.
My time on the stage blew right by. The crowd was sold out, with standing room only, and barely any of that. The crowd was loud and fun, and I could tell the beer and wine were flowing free. Lots of shouting, lots of singing, lots of laughter from this none-too-reserved Orange County crowd. Great job by the promoters bringing together the right combination of performers and audience.
After the show, I signed CDs, and got to meet a whole lot of new friends, and some old friends, too. The next day, we packed up and headed out for an overnight flight, continuing our tour with a weeklong residency in Montreux. I’ll tell you about that real soon.
A special hello to Dave, our bellman, who took such great care of Susan and me while we were there. Yo, Daaaave! And also, of course, I was so happy to see Vance, and Karina, and Maria, and Ricardo come out to the show. Love you guys, see you home in LA!
Potawatomi is pronounced like oughta-wannabe with a ‘p’ in front of it (please smile). I’m just having fun here with the name of a wonderful casino in Milwaukee where I’ve been playing for the last 12 years. And they have been kind and generous and wonderfully welcome to me and my old friends in Milwaukee. This time was no exception.
It turned out that my keyboard player Larry Williams needed to be away for a special event, and his substitute keyboard player was a really special guy named Robi Botos. What a story this is in itself; he’s Hungarian born like Les Czimber, my mentor pianist from my earliest professional singing in Milwaukee, circa 1963. We needed a few hours of rehearsal, so Potawatomi opened their doors and stage to us a day before the show. They also allowed me to have a “short” meet and greet after rehearsal, but it sure wasn’t short!
By now, you’ve heard me talk about how going home is wonderful, beyond belief, BUT you wouldn’t believe how wild, crazy, and impossible it also is. I always need a vacation, and this was no exception. As per usual, there is no vacation forthcoming.
But the most important thing has to do with how wonderful it was. Sitting right in the first row and cheering me on were 3 guys who ran cross-country, played basketball, and played baseball with me in grade school. It was so emotional that all 4 us nearly choked up and broke down. Keep in mind that Potawatomi is a short 12 minutes and a car ride from my alma mater Lincoln High School. This aspect of things always bubbles just beneath the surface of these occasions.
The band caught the spark immediately and returned a powerhouse, electrified performance. All we need (I’m speaking for all artists here) is a genuine sign of appreciation, and you will get the best of our love. As I think back over the years, this was the most satisfying return performance in Milwaukee. It was a homecoming on steroids. We laughed about inside and outside stories right while I was on the stage in the middle of the performance. I mean, things like the mention of nicknames that the audience knew and were familiar with. Inside and personal!! Ya don’t get that stuff anywhere else.
Even with all of the above, I missed (again) the Walnut Street picnic and my brother’s 85th birthday celebration, which happened two weeks before my arrival (Happy birthday, Appie! You’re the man! And wife Diane, you are an angel).
Wow! Right now, I want to do something, but I don’t have the space or the time or the memory. J And that is, to mention all of the people that came to hang out with me. But you know who you are: people from the neighborhood, the a capella choir at Lincoln, and the Pfister Hotel. Just let me tell you I love you, and as always I’ll be taking you wherever I go. Ok, Milwaukee. God bless you and keep you!