By Mark Ruffin, Jazz Editor
After more than 20 years as a consistent seller, vocalist Al Jarreau has been dumped by Warner Brothers in favor of the youth movement. The media giant and the Milwaukee native have come to a parting of the ways with his 14th album, The Best Of Al Jearreau. It’s a 16 song retro-compilation that includes two new tracks produced by George Duke including a killer version of the Les McCann & Eddie Harris classic Compared To What.
“Yeah, I think that’s hot too,” Jarreau said before heading out on the road. “I thought (Warner Brothers) should have been out there pushing it. That’s why I’ve got to get out here on the never ending Al Jarreau tour, which has been going on for about fifteen years now.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Jarreau showed his obvious frustration at being at this crossroad in his career. He attacked his former record company and blasted the continuing dumbing down of quality popular music. He saved his biggest complaint for adults who have bought into what he calls the “hippie-hop revolution.
“You can see it driving down the freeway,” the singer said. “There are people who are driving along who you know are in their middle 40’s or 50’s who are mouthing the words to the latest rap tune on the radio. They’re beat into submission by the only thing available to them.
“I’m not trying to be disdainful of what is new and of what is relevant to the market place and seems to be mainstream,’ he continued. “The music for the youth market is relevant and speaks to a lot of issues that need conversation, on the other hand, there’s a lot of fluff that I don’t think is real significant. And it’s a certainty that the youth market does not know about, does not care about and is not being taught about this other kind of music that we have always thought of as straight ahead r&b music. The divide is serious.”
As one of the very few artists to have won Grammy awards in the jazz, pop and r&b categories, it’s easy to believe Jarreau when he said that he usually don’t think or talk about distinctions within music. It’s just as easy to believe him when he said it’s a “lead pipe cinch” that he will be signed to another label, especially considering he has six gold albums and a top ten single (We’re In This Love Together) to his credit. Until then, he continues on what his “never ending” tour.
“Warner Brothers ain’t never stopped no show,” the singer said defiantly. “I’ve been on the road since (his first album)We Got By in 1975. In fact they didn’t take advantage of all of that touring. After they introduced me to an international audience, it’s been on Al Jarreau. I went out there and did the spade work. I think they were always in a quandary on how to deal with me anyway. There are just any number of areas where they should have and could have been doing something with my product. I think they looked at themselves in the mirror every time they looked at me.”
The talented vocalist now finds himself in the same situation as a number of other respected song stylists including Brenda Russell, James Ingram, Patti Austin, Jeffrey Osborne and Vesta Williams and believe it or not, Chaka Khan. . At press time none of those vocalists are signed to major record deals. Jarreau blames it on the deep chasm within popular music.
“All of those people will find deals too,” Jarreau said. “Success is built on other things. It’s built on that stuff that describes a journeyman. That is a guy who, when he walked into the recording studio, he came with some cultivated abilities. Anybody with those kind of abilities will always find some work.
“You look at any of those names and you say, that’s a talent that has matured, evolved, grown and developed,” he said picking up the tempo as if he was scatting. “They’re not the big new flash in the pan-flavor of the week, that was sent to a hair dresser for orange hair with spikes and called the Dead Roosevelts or the Dead Clintons. These are people who have been singing for years and cultivated their talent. It’s just that a big part of the market that was friends of the kind of music that Patti Austin does, that Jeffrey Osborne does, has gotten just fractured. I don’t know if it’s down the middle, three-way or what.”
When asked about his future, Jarreau really did break out into song- Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues.
“This is the day of the expanding man,” he sang.
Last year he took a break from touring to accept a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the musical Grease. He’s expanded his thespian aspirations with parts in the television shows New York Undercover and Touched By An Angel. He wants to continue with the acting, but his upcoming music projects are what really had him chirping.
In August, a touring company of the Joffrey Ballet, under director Edward Morgan, will premiere a show featuring dance and the voice of Jarreau. In the fall, the California Symphony under the direction of Barry Jekowsky will release an album of music by composer Lou Harrison featuring the singer on two movements. In support of that record, the singer will do a symphony tour with string arrangements by George Duke.
“This is the second half,” Jarreau said enthusiastically. “I’m in the locker room drawing circles, arrows and dotted lines, and telling folks where to block so I can hit them over the middle. And it’s time for me to get about it. The second half will be exciting, I’m not taking one step backwards. I’m coming out smoking, record company or not.”