American vocalist Al Jarreau (Wisconsin, 1940) returns to Canarian stage to play two gigs in XXIII Festival Internacional Canarias Jazz & Mas, which is held between July 11th and 20th. This versatile singer, who has published 20 records since 1965 and he has achieved 7 Grammy Awards, will perform in live July 15th and 16th at the Auditorium of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, respectively.
‘We, jazz singers, are endangered species’
Eva Rancho / D. F. H.
LA PROVINCIA / LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, 3 July 2014
After more than half a century on the road, what is your secret to keep fit?
When you find music in your life and you love it, and you sing it and you play it and you write it, you find inspiration in the music and in doing this thing, which you’d rather do than eat. I’d rather do music than eat, I’d rather do music than sex, I’d rather do music than almost as much as to pray to God and say ‘Thank you, God for my life [laughs]. But music is so important to me like that and when a person finds something in their lives, sometimes it’s skiing, sometimes it’s tennis. Who is the great tennis star?…
Right now? Nadal…?
Nadal ! He’d rather play tennis than eat. That’s the kind of joy and I wish everyone could find something… football… that brings this kind of Nadal’s joy of playing tennis to their life. When you have this, you are always inspired, you always feel good and it doesn’t go away. For me now Nadal is doing a special kind of work that requires a kind of physical strength…
And mentally as well.
I’m 74 years old.
And I can still do this and compete with best in the world.
By the sound of it, you clearly state that you feel with enough strength to keep going on tour.
That’s right !
For how long?
I don’t know, as long as I have the power and the strength to do it and as long as people come to hear me. And that might be just a smaller number of people than normal. Maybe it’s not gonna be like a big festival. Maybe it’s going to be a small club, where I played like George Duke in San Francisco, at one of the very first recordings that you can hear is a record that I did with George Duke at the Half Note in 1965.
Actually one of your latest work is My old friend: celebrating George Duke. How is the experience of building up a quartet with him?
You mean many years ago?
We were both children, we were like puppies trying to find our way, this new music that we were doing that we love so much, and we were right there in San Francisco, in the Haight-Ashbury with Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead… so we were right there in the same neighborhood not doing that Rock & Roll, we were doing this other jazzy music. And so we didn’t have really big audiences like they had, but we were unknown and we had small audiences who were coming to hear what we did at this club called the Half Note. And it was a big encouragement for us to know that this other kind of music still made people laugh and smile and they came to hear us and they scream loud and encouraged us, so we continued our journey. George went and did things with Frank Zappa and began his own recording career after a while and changed the world, a very important musical personality.
“I’m 74 years old and I can still compete with the best of the world. I’d rather do music than eat or sex”
Talking about the Canarias International Jazz Festival, you return after 12 years since your last performance here as one of the starring singers in the line-up. How has your evolution been like over this decade and what will you offer to the Canarian audience in your gig?
All of the music that I’ve recorded in the last 12-15 years. We’ll do music from the beginning of my life and from the middle of my life and so we’ll do something from the George Duke’s record and something from the Metropole Orchestra record that I did…
The live concert…
Yeah, that was three years ago, and new music and old music and middle-period music, and music to sing with the audience, and music to play with my band that I bring with me.
Will you sing some songs from your last two CDs: Christmas and Love songs from 2008?
Oh, yes! We’ll do some from the Love songs record as well.
What about your evolution? How has it been like over the last 12 years?
It’s there in the work I’ve done, in the recordings I’ve done. You can listen tomorrow, today, you can listen to all I’ve got.
How would you define your evolution?
I don’t think that there’s been any great change in my style, so the evolution is more in the particular, specific songs that I sing. I’ve been very evolved Al Jarreau, that person for a very long time, since the middle 80s. I’m the same guy that did the music in the middle 80s, very evolved as a musical person: R&B guy, Pop guy and the Jazz guy. The guy that I sing tomorrow in a new song would be just Al Jarreau as he sings this new piece of music. And there are still things new to do. I was just talking to someone this morning about recording the back Air on a G String. I did a lyric for this piece of music… [Humming] You know that song? John Sebastian Bach. I did words for this song. So sometimes soon I need to become the new Al Jarreau that sings John Sebastian Bach. So the personality continues to grow and it’s still a personality that it’s quite well defined for 30 years.
You are highly regarded as one of the main contemporary jazz vocalists, one of the best for critics and the audience. You obtained 7 Grammys, 3 of them in jazz, pop and soul. Which one do you feel more comfy with?
It’s all very important. I feel comfortable with all three and it’s very important to do all three. And sometimes in one song you can hear jazz and pop and R&B. My version of Fire and Rain, of James Taylor, or my version of Elton John’s Your song, these are jazzy and pop and R&B, all at the same time. People don’t point at that as the scientific fact, they just listen to how Al Jarreau does Your song R&B, but sometimes there’s a song like Spain and that’s just a jazzy song, it’s my version and we do the Aranjuez introduction [humming]. So there’s a lot of fun for me and my audience.
Your versatility as an artist defines and you become a reference in the field. You deny being a crooner of jazz.
I’m not the same crooner of jazz as Joe Williams, not the same as Frank Sinatra. I’m a different kind of crooner of jazz.
Do you think that this kind of artists are endangered species? There are just a few nowadays.
Yes, yes, the whole area of jazz is, specially in America, which is one of the most important places of music in the universe. Jazz is in danger, and it’s because Americans are always looking for something new [laughs], different, and so this jazzy kind of music doesn’t get as much sunshine and it’s a bit of a endangered specie. But jazz is doing very well in Europe, in France, Holland and, I think, in Spain and in other places in the world, so that’s a wonderful thing. May be it will return to America and be as strong there as it is in the rest of the world.
Is a new generation of artists taking over in this music style beyond the artists that make cover versions of the classics?
I hope there is a new generation. Also that’s doing classics, but also exploring other things. Diana Reeves is a wonderful example, Diana Krall, Kurt Elling, Kevin Mahogany. There are new jazz singers who sing the traditional jazz song and the American song, but who are exploring other things as well. Diana Reeves is doing music today that you must consider to be world music.
And last but not least, you are in the middle of a tour: Germany, Romania, Netherlands. What will the audience find in your gig? Will there be a kind of surprise?
Yeah, every tour there is a surprise. We’ll do something on this tour that they didn’t hear me before. When we do this George Duke on this tour is something that they’ve never heard before. Maybe they heard it or they will hear it on the record which is coming on July 5th. And there’s some music we’ll do that is quite new. That’s an almost brand new piece of music. So there will be some surprises, but the way in which we do all music changes, so there will be much of new, exciting, refreshing kinds of experiences as they hear Al Jarreau and his group from the great reservoir. In the life’s situation that I will make for George Duke music. This will continue for years to come that I will do George Duke music. I’m quite late in my career making the Celebration of George Duke’s music. He’s been very important to me and very important to the world of music. So I’m late but it’s a good time as since George has just recently moved on to heaven. And so it’s gonna be a wonderful experience for people to hear me do some George Duke music in a new way.