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Al Jarreau

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By Esther Lynn

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word "unique" as an adjective meaning 1. "existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics. 2. having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable…" well, you get the idea. The only thing missing from the dictionary’s description is a picture of Al Jarreau.

Born Alwyn Lopez Jarreau on March 12, 1940, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native is a one of a kind in the music business. It’s not surprising that he has perfected his technique to such an art as he has been singing since the age of four, harmonizing with his brothers and performing solo at a variety of local events in his hometown. Music was not the only interest in his life. He excelled in sports and was an above-average student throughout high school and college. Enrolled at the respected Ripon College in Wisconsin, Jarreau continued singing for fun, performing on weekends and holidays with a group called The Indigos. He graduated from Ripon with a Bachelor Of Science degree in Psychology before moving on to the University of Iowa to earn his Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation. Jarreau subsequently relocated to San Francisco to begin a career in rehabilitation counseling.

It was in the City By the Bay that Al’s natural musical gifts began to shape his future. He found himself performing at a small jazz club with a trio headed by George Duke. By the late ‘60s, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. He moved to Los Angeles where he began his apprenticeship in such famed nightspots as Dino’s, the Troubador and the Bitter End West. Soon after, he branched out to New York City as well, where he gained national network television exposure with Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, David Frost and Merv Griffin. He teamed with guitarist Julio Martinez to work with up-and-coming comics John Belushi, David Brenner, Robert Klein, Bette Midler, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, Budd Friedman’s Improv.

In 1975, following an extended stint at the Bla Bla Cafe in Los Angeles, he was spotted by Warner Bros. talent scouts and was signed to a recording contract. His debut album, We Got By, was released to unanimous acclaim. It was a reception that spread across the continent and over the Atlantic when Jarreau was awarded a German Grammy for Best New International Soloist that same year. A second German Grammy came his way with the release of his follow-up album, Glow.

His fourth album, All Fly Home, was released in 1978 to further accolades and a second Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. It was followed by a string of innovative and original offerings, including 1980s This Time, and the million-selling Breakin’ Away, which brought him a broader audience and two more Grammy’s for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist.

The follow ups to Breakin’ Away, 1983s Jarreau, and High Crime spawned a string of R&B and pop hits and further cemented him as an international superstar. Al Jarreau Live In London, recorded before an SRO crowd at Wembley Arena in 1985, continued to solidify Jarreau’s reputation as a world-class master of both studio and stage. Following the live album, Jarreau teamed with top producer Nile Rodgers for L Is For Lover, which brought some new styles and sounds to the singer’s repertoire. He continued to top the stateside charts in 1987 and became a weekly guest in America’s living rooms singing the Grammy-nominated theme song for the hit television series "Moonlighting."

He soon launched into the recording of the Heart’s Horizon album, which contained the No. 2 R&B smash, "So Good," and earned him another Grammy-nomination, this time for Best R&B Album. After touring for nearly two years, he returned to the studio - this time with Narada Michael Walden - to fashion the sound that would launch him into his third decade of music-making. The result was 1992s Heaven and Earth for which he received his fifth Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance. With this, he became one the rare artists to have won Grammy’s in the three categories of jazz, pop, and R&B.

In 1994, Tenderness was released. On this Marcus Miller-produced gem, Jarreau is joined by an all-star cast (David Sanborn, Kathleen Battle, Joe Sample, Steve Gadd, to name a few) to bring us a host of familiar contemporary compositions and to revisit a few Jarreau classics.

1996 brought some exciting career challenges. While on a break from touring, Jarreau took a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical "Grease!" Other acting credits include guest appearances on "New York Undercover," "Touched By An Angel" and a national McDonald’s commercial with R&B songstress Vesta Williams.

Then, to commemorate 20 years of success, Jarreau released his first-ever compilation album, Best of Al Jarreau. The collection highlights 14 of Jarrreau’s best-known songs and two new tracks produced by Jarreau’s long-time friend, jazz giant George Duke. In 2000, Al recorded his first album for the GRP label, Tomorrow Today. One of the highlights from the album was a duet with Vanessa Williams on the song, "God's Gift to the World."

Now 64, Jarreau has been featured on more than 40 recordings and has been singled out for special honors in readers and critics polls in Performance, Cashbox, Downbeat, Stereo Review and other respected music publications. On March 6, 2001, he was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame.

Al Jarreau’s vocal style is one of the world’s most precious treasures. His innovative musical expressions have made him one of the most exciting and critically-acclaimed performers of our time. In addition to the Grammy Awards, he has accumulated scores of international music awards and popular accolades worldwide. Check out this unique entertainer.

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