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Jazz legend Al Jarreau dies

Al Jarreau, like George Benson, is a jazz musician through and through, but both only really became well known and much more successful when they turned to soul / pop music.

Al was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau on 12th March 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the 1960s, as well as playing in small jazz clubs, he worked as a rehabilitation counsellor in San Francisco and it was there he met another jazz giant, George Duke and the two were two thirds of a jazz trio. By 1968 he quit to concentrate on a full-time music career and headed to Los Angeles. There he got a regular slot at Dino’s and The Troubadour – two well-known night clubs which then led to TV exposure as a guess on shows like Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and David Frost.

In 1975 he was finally spotted by a talent scout from Warner Brothers who gave him a recording contract. He sang in a scat style which earned him the nickname Acrobat of Scat. That year, at the age of 35, he released his first album which was well received and within two years he had won the first of his seven Grammy Awards.

His 1981 album Breakin’ Away was much more commercial and won him a much wider audience and won him two Grammy’s in the jazz and pop vocal categories. His 1983 eponymous album contained the hit singles Mornin’ and Boogie Down with both received reasonable airplay. In 1987 he wrote the lyrics and recorded the theme tune to the American TV show Moonlighting which starred Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis and surprisingly only peaked at number 23 in America, in the UK, however, it went to number eight.

In 2001 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2007, he won two further Grammys for the album Givin’ it Up which he recorded with George Benson.

First and foremost he considered himself a jazz musician as he explained in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1989, “Jazz, whatever we think its purest form is, is a dynamic and changing form. It will never be the jazz of the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, because it’s changing and responding to its environment. That environment includes the influences of Michael Jackson, Sting and hip-hop just as much as Charlie Parker or bebop.”

His agent broke the news explaining that he’d been treated for exhaustion and was also suffering from pneumonia, but the exact cause of death is not yet know. Al died on 12th February exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday.

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Chart-topping singer Peter Starstedt dies

Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck are probably the two most well-known English chart-topping musicians to be born in India, but the first real musical celebrity death is another, as we say goodbye to Peter Sarstedt.

Peter was born in Delhi to parents who were both classically trained musicians. The family moved in 1954 to the UK and settled in south London where Peter finished his education and learned to play bass guitar. His brother, Richard, who was born some 20 months earlier also became a musician and decided to change his name to Eden Kane and notched up five UK top 10 hits between 1961 and 1964 including the number one Well I Ask You.

Peter Sarstedt played bass for his brother, Eden Kane, but when Eden emigrated to Australia in 1965, he was without a job. He went to Copenhagen and started writing songs. He says, “The message I got from Bob Dylan was to be as unlike him as possible. A Dylan imitator is nothing like Bob Dylan because he would never imitate.” In so doing, Sarstedt came up with a highly original debut single, I Am a Cathedral. This cryptic song was arranged by Ian Green and produced by Ray Singer, who worked on Peter’s first two albums.

The talents of Sarstedt, Green and Singer were best heard on the atmospheric, accordion-based Where Do You Go to (My Lovely), a five minute track on the first album which was not intended as a single. Peter comments, “I wanted to write a long, extended piece because I was working in folk clubs and universities, and Al Stewart had something that was half an hour long and Bob Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ took a whole side of an album. ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’ was my first attempt at writing something longer than my normal three minutes. It was amazingly easy to write, but I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say something about this particular person, although it wasn’t about anyone specific.”

At first, United Artists did not think it was a single: “They said it has no drums, it is too long and there are only three instruments.” The label relented and the song became a standard topping the UK singles chart for four weeks in February 1969. It went on to be a chart topper in numerous countries and won the Ivor Novello award for best song composition.

His only other hit was the follow up, Frozen Orange Juice which reached the top ten four months later. During the 1970s he effectively retired and moved back to Copenhagen, but he got the bug again and in the early 80s he returned to the UK and toured the south of England as part of the Solid Sixties Shows. He continued to record and his last album in 2013 was called Restless Heart.

There is a third brother, Clive, who used the first name Robin, who charted one hit in 1976 with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s My Resistance Is Love. In doing so it was the first that three members of the same family had individually claimed a top 10 hit. In the later 90s and early 2000s when Peter wasn’t on an oldies tour he would perform with his brother, Clive, around Europe.

On Sunday 8th January the family released a statement stating the Peter had died peacefully after a six-year battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

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Superstar George Michael dead at 53

When news broke that George Michael had died on Christmas Day morning, it came as much as a shock as it did when we first heard about Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, another major iconic pop star had gone.

George, like many pop stars, had their share of ups and down as well as bad publicity, in the mid-1990s, he lost both his mother and his lover, he unsuccessfully tried to sue his record company Sony claiming that their requirements were treating him as a ‘professional slave’ because his contract stated that he should produce music and cede the copyright to the company for many years. In April 1998 he was arrested in Beverley Hills for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ in a public restroom. The Sun actually came out with an amusing headline the next day which read ‘Zip me up before you go-go’. Up until that point George had never publicly declared his sexuality, but then it’s his own business so why should he, but in a 2007 interview he said, “hiding my sexuality made me feel fraudulent, and my eventual outing, when I was arrested was a subconsciously deliberate act.” but with all that aside, the public, as well as his adoring fans, both gay and straight, quickly forgot those things and he remained a superstar. His legacy will always be his music.

George was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in north London on 25th June 1963, soon after he was born the family moved to Kingsbury, then to Radlett and then onto Bushey. He attended Bushey Meads School where he met Andrew Ridgeley and realised they both wanted to be musicians. George briefly busked on the London Underground before he and Andrew formed a short-lived ska band called The Executive which also featured Andrew’s brother Paul, David Mortimer (who later became David Austin and had one minor hit in 1984 called Turn to Gold) and Andrew Leaver. In 1981 they disbanded and George and Andrew formed Wham! and signed a contract with Innervision records.

I first met the pair in the summer of 1982 when their music publishers, Brian Morrison and Dick Leahy (as Morrison Leahy Music), held a launch party for their debut single, Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), in a marquee at Brian’s home in Buckinghamshire and I was the DJ. From what I remember it was a fantastic event with a number of famous people in attendance, but I think I was too busy trying to fathom out why one of my turntables had broken.

Wham Rap initially failed to make an impact, but was re-issued after their next single, Young Guns (Go for It), became their first hit and reached number three. Their third single, Bad Boys, went to number two and Club Tropicana stopped at number four. In May 84 Wake Me up Before you Go Go gave them their first of four chart toppers, the other three were Freedom, I’m Your Man and The Edge of Heaven. Christmas that year saw George at number two with Last Christmas / Everything She Wants, the UK’s biggest selling single not to make number one, and at number one as part of Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project Do They Know It’s Christmas. All the money from Band Aid was going to Famine in Ethiopia and so George decided to donate all the profits from Last Christmas to a different charity.

All the tributes that have been paid all cite George as a selfless and kind man, he sang backing vocals on Elton John’s hits Nikita and Wrap Her Up, Boogie Box High’s top 10 cover on Jive Talkin’ and on Deon Estus’s minor hit Heaven Help Me, Deon had played bass on George’s first two solo hits. He also added backing to Lisa Moorish’s cover of I’m Your Man which reached number 24 in 1995.

George launched a solo career in 1984, two years before Wham! finally split, his first hit was the million-selling international number one Careless Whisper which George had written in 1979 whilst working as an usher in a cinema. As he travelled on the bus, he worked out a lyric about one of his relationships – note the reference to the silver screen in the first verse. He has said since, “I wasn’t secure enough to write something that would expose my feelings, so it’s very clichéd in a lot of its terms. He completed the song a few years later with Andrew Ridgeley. In the UK hit was credited to George but in America it was billed as Wham! featuring George Michael. George dedicated the song to his mum and dad saying it was “five minutes in return for 21 years”. His first solo album, Faith, sold over 25m copies.

In 1985 Wham! toured China and were the first Western act to do so, his manager said, “Their Government had famously issued an edict that said ‘you can look but don’t learn’, and George heard about that just before the first concert began and that made him work all the harder to encourage the audience to get up on their feet.”

George had become good friends with Freddie Mercury and the year after Freddie died, George was one of the highlights at the tribute concert in 1992. He performed 39, a track from Queen’s A Night at the Opera album and a song he regularly sang in his busking days, Somebody to Love and These are the Day of Our Lives, a duet with Lisa Stansfield, the latter two appeared on the Five Live EP which topped the UK singles chart in 1993.

After his toilet activity arrest in 1998 George came straight back with the single Outside which poked fun at the situation and came with a humorous video, but in 1999, the officer, Marcelo Rodriguez, tried to sue George for $10m claiming he has been emotionally and mentally damaged by public remarks and the video which featured men dancing in tight black leather uniforms and included scenes with two policemen kissing. The case was dismissed.

In 2010 George was driving back from a Gay Pride parade when he crashed his car into the window of a Snappy Snaps shop in Hampstead, he was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis and driving while unfit through drink or drugs, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an eight week prison sentence and a five-year ban from driving, he served four weeks. In 2013 he was involved in another bizarre motor-related incident when he fell from a moving car on the M1 near St Albans.

George had moved to Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire in 2007 with his lover Fadi Fawaz and threw a party just for his neighbours so they could all be introduced he claimed. It was here that Fadi found George’s body when he went to wake him up on Christmas Day morning. His manager intimated that it was heart failure but a post mortem carried out on 29th December proved inconclusive stating that further tests had to be carried out. Eventually, 11 weeks after his death, on 7th March, the coroner’s verdict was announced as natural causes, he said “The precise causes of death were dialated cardiomyopathy which is a heart muscle disease which stretches the muscles and thins them so blood flow in the body is restricted.”

At the time of writing, two memorial services were being planned one in the UK and one in America and it’s believed that he will be buried next to his mother Lesley in Highgate Cemetery. Elton John will sing at his funeral and later in the year a tribute concert is being staged with provisional planned appearances by Elton, Bob Geldof, Mariah Carey, Andrew Ridgeley and one of George’s hero’s Aretha Franklin with whom he had an international chart topper with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) in 1987.

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Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds dies

Just a few weeks ago, Carrie Fisher was in London publicising her new book, The Princess Diarist, and was a guest on Graham Norton’s chat show, she’d also been spending a lot of time in London and had just bought a flat in Chelsea to live when she came to the UK. A couple of week’s later news broke that she’d suffered a cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles, four days later she was dead. A film documentary, Bright Lights, about Carrie and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, was premiered in Cannes last May and was due to be aired in early 2017. The content about life for the Fisher and how Carrie was caring for her mother who was still performing at the age of 84. The day after Carrie passed, her brother, Todd, announced that his mother had suffered a severe stroke and died the following day.

Debbie was born Mary Frances Reynolds on 1st April 1932 in El Paso, Texas and was discovered in 1948 by talent scouts from both Warner Brothers and MGM at the Miss Burbank contest, four years later she got her first starring role when, still only 19, burst out of a cake in Singin’ in the Rain. The film starred Gene who also directed the moved and it was him and co-director Stanley Donen took a gamble on the inexperienced actress and it paid off. Debbie said, “I learned a lot from Gene. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian – the most exacting director I’ve ever worked for. Every so often, he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before.”

In 1955 she’d married singer Eddie Fisher and were the parents to Carrie and Todd, they divorced four years later. In 1960 she married millionaire businessman Harry Karl which ended in 1973 and then between 1984 and 1996 she was married to real estate developer Richard Hamlett.

Her first movie role was in 1948 as an uncredited girlfriend in June Bride and went on to star in over 85 films including; Susan Slept Here (1954), The Tender Trap (1955), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), The Mating Game (1959), Goodbye Charlie (1964), Charlotte’s Web (1973), a cameo role in The Bodyguard (1992) and her last film was Behind the Candelabra in 2013.

It was the song Tammy, named after her character in Tammy and the Bachelor in 1957 that gave her her only UK hit single which reached number two in the UK behind The Cricket’ That’ll Be The Day, but in the States it spent five weeks at the top. A couple of years later the song’s title inspired a young Berry Gordy to name his newly launched record label after it, but Tammy was already taken, so he initially called his label Tamla.

In 1991, she bought a hotel and casino in Las Vegas and in it she displayed many items from her extensive range of Hollywood costumes and in her later years she a relentless fund-raiser for The Thalians, a charity that provides mental health services for all ages.

In 2015 she received a Governors Award and an SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Life Achievement Award but was unable to attend following a small stroke. The screen Actors Guild award was presented to her on stage by Carrie.

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Rick Parfitt dies

Christmas Eve afternoon and news comes across that Rick Parfitt, the veteran rocker from the legendary Status Quo had been saved from death following a heart attack by a kebab. Within half an hour, that news came that he had died.

Rick, who I once had the pleasure of meeting in 1980 when they came to the BBC when their then-current hit What You’re Proposing was in the chart, was such a normal, lovely down-to-earth guy. He was born in Woking, Surrey in 1948 and learned to play guitar when he was 11. In the mid-sixties, he was playing in a pub on London’s Goodge Street when a representative from a holiday camp on Hayling Island approached Rick’s father saying he was impressed and wanted to offer him a summer job at the camp. Rick accepted and joined with two people performing under the name The Harrison Twins and became a trio calling themselves the Highlights. They were then asked to perform at Butlins in Minehead and there is where he met Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan and Francis Rossi who were performing under the name the Spectres. The band’s manager decided that they needed another singer and Rick was invited to join and they changed their name to Traffic Jam.

In 1967, another change of name took place and the called themselves The Status Quo for their first five singles including the hits Pictures Of Matchstick Men and the Marty Wilde-penned Ice In The Sun, but then they dropped ‘The’ and forever known as Status Quo.

Over the next 42 years, the line-up changed several times, but Rossi and Parfitt were the mainstays throughout and in that time they amassed 67 UK hit singles and 45 hit albums, which, for a group, is a record for singles and only beaten by the Rolling Stones for the albums.

Their only UK number one was the 1975’s Down Down but arguably their most famous song is Rockin’ All Over The World, a John Fogerty-penned song which they those to open the Live Aid Concert with in 1985 after Bob Geldof suggested they should open the show. It even got Prince Charles clapping along.

Rick has had his share of health problems, in 1997 he underwent a quadruple heart bypass operation after doctors strongly advised him to change his lifestyle of drink and drugs. In 2005 he had a throat cancer scare, December 2011 another heart attack and again in August 2014 which is the one that finally made him give up the bad habits. He said in an interview with the Daily Mail, “That last heart attack has made me quit smoking and drinking after 50 years, I’ve been drinking a bottle of wine and smoking 30 cigarettes a day.”

In 2010 both Parfitt and Rossi were awarded an OBE for services to music and in 2015 he and his wife Lyndsay set up a real estate company called Status Homes which was based in Marbella, Spain. In June 2016, whilst on tour in Turkey, he suffered yet another heart attack. He pulled out of the tour, although the band carried on, and flown back to the UK. He then went to Marbella to recover. He was admitted to hospital on Thursday evening (22nd Dec) and died two days later following complications to a shoulder injury incurred by a previous fall.

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