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Indy Jazz Fest: The unsinkable Al Jarreau



At 70 years of age and with seven Grammys to his name, Al Jarreau exemplifies the cliché, "It's hard to keep a good man down." A heart arrhythmia and episodes of shortness ofbreath left Jarreau hospitalized for nine days in France this summer. But after a successful medical procedure, the indomitable vocalist resumed his European tour. He had just returned from a tour of Japan when NUVO caught up with him over Labor Day weekend.

So why doesn't this hard-working, indefatigable artist get the kind of critical respect he deserves? He's consistently left out of Best Male Vocalist polls in top jazz magazines.

Jarreau gave his best guess: "As a guy who found some great things in contemporary traditions and genres of music and combined them in a way that's unique, has given me my own little corner and presence as a performer today and over several generations. Those forms are R&B, pop and jazz."

Singers fear the impact of time on their voices. Has time taken a toll on Jarreau's pipes?

"Yeah, if you live long enough, your ass gets old," Jarreau laughed. "Your voice is gonna change. Stevie Wonder is the only guy who seems to have the same voice he had as a fifteen year old. I have some changes in my voice and throat just from doing it. The worse thing for a singer is to become a professional vocalist."

Jarreau is one of the most laid-back performers in entertainment, noted for his easy-going ways and accessibility. I was caught off guard by his intense and passionate response when I inquired about technology and the expense of performing on stage today.

"Yes, of course, technology has affected me in what I do," he explained. "I have two synthesizer guys on stage providing strings and horns that give the audience a fuller kind of listen. I can't afford to carry strings and things. I am really putting it in the corner as an artist trying to survive, as an artist who has not been a top-charting kind of guy. I am someone who has had something to contribute to the music over the past several decades and even today. It does come down to what you can afford to do. I've got a repertoire on pre-recorded CD and I will stand up and sing to it, if it comes down to that and I can't afford a trio. I am going to keep singing in whatever way that I can."

After countless recording sessions and concerts, there's one thing Jarreau still wants to do. "I have not done a big band record, I want to do that.I have a feeling for that era and what singers can do with the music."

Jerreau performs at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 18 at Opti-Park.


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