It is impossible to speak of the emergence of contemporary jazz in the 1980s without pausing a long time to talk about Al Jarreau. One of the most unique vocalists ever in recorded music, Jarreau emerged from an unlikely background to win seven Grammy awards and become one of the most significant singers in the world.
Jarreau began singing at his birth home in Milwaukee and as a teen joined a local group called the Indigos. After college he moved to San Francisco to work in vocational rehabilitation, but found himself continuously drawn to the local jazz scene. By the late 60s he was a regular performer in San Francisco clubs, often working in a trio with future star George Duke. In the early 70s he moved to Los Angeles and became part of the robust music scene there.
Jarreau signed his first recording contract with Warner Brothers in 1975, and had an international smash with his debut album, We Got By. But it was his live album Look To the Rainbow that made him a bona fide star and won for him his first Grammy. Entering the 1980s, he continued to rise as a leader in the contemporary jazz field before seemingly taking over the world with his 1981 crossover album Breaking Away and the smash hit “We’re In This Love Together.”
Over the remainder of the decade Jarreau continued to record popular album after album and issue big hits like “Mornin,” the ballad “After All” and the theme song from the television show Moonlighting. He also continued to stretch his musical boundaries into R&B and pop, working with such production luminaries at Nile Rodgers, Marcus Miller, Narada Michael Walden. And in 1999, he toured the world performing with symphonic orchestras.
The 21st century brought more accolades such as Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; it also brought more new music and world tours, as well as a tribute album to his close friend, George Duke. Sadly, Al Jarreau died in February of 2017.
In his 50 years in the spotlight, Al Jarreau proved himself to be one of the most versatile, awe inspiring and important artists in the world. He was “In This Love Together” with us for a half century, and today fans around the globe will be celebrating that love, and one of the most uniquely talented singers of our lifetime.
By Chris Rizik