Al Jarreau: Hip or lame?

Words by Adam Lovinus

I got a press release saying that Al Jarreau is coming home to Milwaukee for a free show July 11 at Rotary Park in Mequon. (Mom party!) I don’t know how everyone feels about smooth jazz, but as fans of Milwaukee music, you should know about Al Jarreau. Granted, he worked in what could possibly the crappiest genre in all of recorded music, a genre so bad that it doesn’t even have any of the so-bad-it’s-awesome ironic hipster value. But whatever, this isn’t the Decider, so we’ll let *you* make up your mind about Mr. Jarreau. Here’s a quick rundown.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Jarreau didn’t set out for a career in music. Instead he studied psychology at Ripon College in the early 1960s, then earned a M.S. in Vocational Therapy from University of Iowa. He’s a scholar. Like many Milwaukee musicians, he wouldn’t make music a full-time thing until he moved – in Al’s case, to San Francisco – where he met (synth pioneer/pianist) George Duke, a longtime Frank Zappa collaborator, and won a gig in his jazz trio.

The early stuff is pretty good — check out this video from 1976. I love it — first off, it’s an interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s classic standard Take Five, plus he does some proto-Rahzel stuff too. Notice that his band has a Headhunter-ish sound.

Things get soft-rock in the 80’s, right when he was getting popular. Here’s his big hit, “We’re in this Love Together,” which reached #15 on the U.S. charts in 1981. Notice the cheese-ball organ sound, and use of head-less bass guitar … ugh.

Here’s another hit, “Mornin'”, which reached #21 on the U.S. charts in 1983. It’s more smooth jazz a la David Sanborn/George Benson — the 1980’s soft-rock-cum-jazz sound. Hate the genre, but gotta love Al’s voice in this one, though.

Remember that TV show Moonlighting? With Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd? FACT: Al Jarreau wrote the theme for that.

So you should be getting the idea by now. My verdict is this: Can’t stand the genre. It is what it is. But as a singer, a jazzman and a composer, Al Jarreau is a legend. A Milwaukee legend. I’d be up for drinking some box-wine at the Rotary Park show. Hell, maybe take the wine bag out of the box for a round of “Slap the Bag.” Maybe I’ll see ya there.



One Response to “Al Jarreau: Hip or lame?”

  1. Web Media Says:

    That’s a lot of Al Jarreau… not enough apparently, iNeed my fix. I’m kind of Moonlighting as his ultimate fan. Thanks for sharing!

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