Al Jarreau, one of Jazz, R&B and pop music’s most versatile vocalists, who sold millions of records and won a string of Grammys for his work, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 76.
His death was announced by his manager, Joe Gordon, who said that Mr. Jarreau had been hospitalized for exhaustion two weeks ago. On the advice of his doctors, he had canceled his tour dates and retired from touring.
Al Jarreau did not begin a full-time musical career until he was nearly 30, but within a few years he had begun attracting notice for a vocal style that was both instantly appealing and highly unusual. Critics were particularly taken by his improvisational dexterity, in particular his virtuosic ability to produce an array of vocalizations ranging from delicious nonsense to clicks and growls to quasi-instrumental sounds.
Although he made his initial mark in the jazz world, Jarreau’s style, and his audience, crossed stylistic barriers. His music incorporated elements of pop, soul, gospel, Latin and other genres. It was a mark of his eclecticism that he won six Grammys across three different categories: jazz, pop and R&B. He was also among the performers on a Grammy-winning children’s album, “In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record.”
Alwin Lopez Jarreau was born in Milwaukee on March 12, 1940, into a musical family. His father, a minister, was a fine singer; his mother played the piano in church. Young Al began singing at 4, harmonizing with his siblings. As a youth he sang in church, as well as with street-corner harmony groups and local jazz bands.
Jarreau earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ripon College in Wisconsin in 1962, and a master’s in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa in 1964. Afterward he moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a rehabilitation counselor for people with disabilities.
But Al Jarreau found he could not resist the pull of jazz and before long was singing in local nightclubs. By the late ’60s, he had quit his day job and embarked on a nightclub career, first on the West Coast and eventually in New York.
He reached a national audience with the album “We Got By,” released by Warner Bros. in 1975 to critical praise and commercial success.
Though advertised as his debut, it was actually his second album. A decade earlier, Mr. Jarreau had quietly recorded an album, later released on the Bainbridge label under the title “1965.” Though Mr. Jarreau took legal action, without success, to block its belated release in 1982, it is esteemed by jazz connoisseurs today.
Appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and other television shows raised his profile, as did extensive touring. In 1981 he had his biggest hit with the song “We’re in This Love Together,” which reached No. 15 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
He won his first Grammy in 1978, for best jazz vocal performance, for his album “Look to the Rainbow.” He won his last in 2007, for best traditional R&B vocal performance; the award was shared by Jarreau, George Benson and Jill Scott for their collaborative performance “God Bless the Child.”
Among Jarreau’s best-known recordings was the theme song for the long-running television series “Moonlighting,” for which he wrote the lyrics to Lee Holdridge’s music. He appeared on Broadway as a replacement in the role of the Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of “Grease.”
Al Jarreau canceled a number of concert dates in 2010 after experiencing heart and breathing problems during a European tour. He was hospitalized for 11 days but resumed his touring schedule after his release, and had continued to perform until recently.
Shortly after his 2010 hospitalization, he said in an interview that his health problems had not been as serious as reports suggested, but joked that he appreciated the attention they received in the media because it proved that he was a celebrity. “I figured,” he said, “‘Yeah, maybe I have arrived.’”
Source: The New York Times