Al Jarreau’s love of humanity was the root of his music


Chuck Yarborough writes: Al Jarreau is gone.

It’s fitting, in a way, that the world lost the seven-time Grammy winner – out of more than two dozen nominations — on the day of the Grammys. He’d suffered exhaustion and been hospitalized for pneumonia prior to his death.

On his website, a post by an unidentified author had this to say:

“A few days ago, I was asked to describe Al to someone who knew of his success, but did not know him as a person. I responded with this: His 2nd priority in life was music. There was no 3rd. His 1st priority, far ahead of the other, was healing or comforting anyone in need. Whether it was emotional pain, or physical discomfort, or any other cause of suffering, he needed to put our minds at ease and our hearts at rest. He needed to see a warm, affirming smile where there had not been one before. Song was just his tool for making that happen.”

I believe the writer was his publicist, Joe Gordon, but honestly, the sentiment could have come from anyone who ever talked to the 76-year-old legend.

I was fortunate to do just that as part of our preliminary coverage for the 2016 Tri-C JazzFest. He was coming to support his friend and producer, Cleveland native Tommy LiPuma, for whom the JazzFest was throwing an 80th birthday bash.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a chance to interview a kinder, sweeter man.

For most of the conversation, we talked about just what a great producer and great person LiPuma is. But the irony is that in talking about his friend, Jarreau gave a peek into his own character.

His talent as a singer was a given. Nobody could take a song and blend jazz and soul with soft pop and hints of gospel the way Jarreau could with his pitch-perfect, percussive voice.

But lots of people can sing soul and not have one. That number did not include Jarreau.

LiPuma’s first goal in life was to become a barber, like his father.

“He was going to be the barber of Seville,” Jarreau said in our long phone call last June. “But that’s exactly what I’m talking about – those humble beginnings.

“Humble beginnings sensitize you, and you become a sensitive reed in the wind,” he said.

“I hope I got some of that in me.”

He did. And he had an idea why.

“I grew up during a period of time in America – and the part of an America that Tommy saw, too – that . . . made you a practitioner of sensitivity,” Jarreau said.

For him, that training came from his faith. His father was a Seventh-Day Adventist minister, and his mother was a church pianist.

“If you sat there in the pews as long as I did, you began to understand the ethic of Jesus,” he said. “It ain’t different from the ethic of Buddha or the ethic of Mohammad.

“Certain teachings we discovered by people studying how we ought to behave with each other,” Jarreau said.

Jarreau used his life and his music to do that. If there is a person who ever said an unkind word about him, I haven’t been able to find him or her. And that’s because his philosophy as human being carried over to his philosophy as an artist. [Continue reading…]

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