Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chatting with Al Jarreau

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Singer Al Jarreau is one of only a handful of jazz artists who has managed to successfully reach a mass audience while still staying true to his musical roots. Serious jazz heads know him for tunes like his groundbreaking rendition of “Take Five” — while more mainstream music fans know him as the dude who sang the theme song for the old Moonlighting TV show. However you know Jarreau, be sure to check him out when he stops through Charlotte on March 20 (show information at the bottom of this artcile); he promises to put on a genre-bending show full of hits, both big and small (yes, even “Moonlighting”). We caught up with Al last week via telephone and chatted with him about his multifaceted career.

Creative Loafing: I was online a few weeks ago checking out performance videos of you online and found you doing your version of “Take Five” in 1976 (See video below). So far it’s been viewed more than 1,000,000 times. Do you have any particular recollections of that performance?

Al Jarreau: Well, a couple of things. It’s Al Jarreau just working on the scene, and it’s Al Jarreau doing some very unusual music for a singer at that time — and perhaps any time. I mean “Take Five” is a very special piece of music that takes a kind of special approach and understanding and ability to get comfortable with this rather unusually written, eclectic piece of music. I tell the story today on stage that whenever I see Dave Brubeck I tell him: “I know you wrote that song, but I’ve been doing it as long as you have — and I feel like you owe me some money!” (Laughs) Which is not the truth. But the truth is, I might have played that song as much as he has.

The way you were singing that song, it was kind of like you were mixing — similar to a hip-hop DJ, which came years later. It’s kind of interesting that you did that before hip-hop existed.

Isn’t that interesting? (Laughs) Al doing that stuff 20 years before it became the thing to do. Isn’t that interesting? Hello folks! Do I have to turn the spotlight on myself and drum roll? Gotdamn! Was Al a forerunner? Yeah he was … way out there. Ahead of the pack! (Laughs)

It’s funny to think that back in the day — with songs like “Moonlighting” and such — you were a pop star yourself. What do you think of the current state of pop music?

Oh my … man. I don’t recognize this sector of the universe! I don’t know what I would do coming along these days with my brand of music. I mean, the Esperanza Spladings are rarities; still, it’s encouraging to find that there are some young people who are seeing through to the real deal … seeing through the kind of haze of other stuff that can be “music.” Yeah, it’s a really different time. I just tell young people these days: “Just do it cause you love it.” … That’s been my approach.

So what do you have coming up?

George Duke and I have a little CD coming from 1965. In 1965, we played at a place called the Half Note [in San Francisco]. George was a student at the conservatory, and I was a social worker living in San Francisco and singing nights. We recorded on one or two nights. We just went through those tapes, and there’s some stuff there that we think is important for people to hear — Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio 1965, doing some music that they’ve never heard me or George ever do. That’s coming toward the end of the month. And I’m gearing up for a big summer tour. And we’re working on a new studio record … brand-new material. We’re just really grinning about that. Ohhh wait till you hear this!

Show info: $38.50-$75.50. 7 p.m. Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. 704-372-1000. www.carolinatix.org.

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