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.