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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Al Jarreau

al jerreauSmitty: Joining me at Jazz Monthly. Com is one of the most incredible singers to ever grace the stage. His music blissfully transcends the format. He has just joined George Benson to produce a wonderful project that is a plethora of explosive grooves and dynamic lyrics. It’s called Givin’ It Up. Please welcome multi-Grammy award winning, the amazing and so cool, Mr. Al Jarreau! How are you Al? Welcome to Jazz Monthly.

Al Jarreau (AJ): Thank you, Smitty. It’s great to talk with you again.

Smitty: Same here, my friend. What a great new record!

AJ:  Thank you…we put it together in record time, so to speak, trying to take advantage of this new union of Monster Cable with Concord Records who formed a kind of partnership with Noel Lee at Monster Cable.  Do you know that group?

Smitty: Absolutely, Wow!

AJ:  Yes, they make high end wiring and cable, and they’re just a huge company with 25,000 outlets where Monster Cable is sold around the world.  They’re absolutely a major company. Noel loves music, wanted to start his own record company, but decided to partner with people who know the record business and went to the best….to Concord, and said “Look, let’s get together and do this,” and the “this” that they’re doing is they’ve built this Surround Sound System 5.1 High Definition theater-like Surround Sound that goes on the market just recently these days, and they’re using this record that we’ve done and that’s been mixed in that….Surround Sound kind of way.  They’re using it to demonstrate that sound and they’re gonna sell this record at those locations where they’re demonstrating it.

Smitty:  What a cool concept.

AJ:  So it’s a new way of marketing product and stuff, and we wanted to be the first in this new…how should I describe it?  New partnership.

Smitty:  Yeah. The sound is incredible! 

AJ:  Yes it is.

Smitty: Okay, who came up with this idea of you and George (Benson) collaborating together?  Who called who about this project?  Were you guys sitting around having a glass of wine and said “Hey, let’s do something together”?

AJ:  No, it’s was not me or George. It was the guy who produced the record. George signed with Concord, oh, I don’t know exactly how long ago, but it’s close to a year ago….and they hadn’t figured out what the project was going to be. I began talking to Concord because I had finished my deal with GRP….and was out looking around for a new deal, and John Burk, a producer over there who has done great work at Concord with artists, began looking at George and I and thinking “Hmm, things that make you go hmm.”  Called us on the phone, said “Come over and talk with me, you guys.  I have this idea,” and began laying it out, talking about “What I think would be fantastic (Soft spoken)...”  He talks like that in voices.  But he said “This is what I envision.  This is my dream.  George, you do something, a classic of Al’s, and feature the guitar doing it.  Al, you take something classic of George’s” and I said “I know what it is already.  I’ll do a lyric for ‘Breezin.’”  “Fantastic.  You mean, you’ve started a lyric?”  “Yes, I’ve started a lyric for ‘Breezin.’”  “Oh, that’s wonderful.”  And the ideas grew from there, Smitty, grew from there.

Smitty:  Wow. It was meant to be.

AJ:  Yes. He also said “We need you to do some classics, but let’s not make it a bebop record.  You guys are not beboppers because we’re gonna take flak from beboppers ‘cause it’s not a bebop record.”  (Both laughing.)  “But just do what you do.  Your audience is a broad audience of R&B and pop people, and you two guys together, this is a lead pipe cinch.  What do you think?” (Laughs.)

Smitty:  Yeah, man. Just listening to you describe that gives me a chill.  I mean, ‘cause when I first heard it, I said “Okay, I’ve gotta find out who came up with this great idea.”  So you tell John I said he is a brilliant dude.

AJ:  Yup, yup.  You know, the thing is that, I sit around and I have an idea. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to sing with the London Symphony, great idea. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to sing with the Count Basie Orchestra? Great idea, lovely idea. Oh, I’d like to sing with Luciano Pavarotti, you know?

Smitty:  (Laughs.)

AJ:   But when somebody with the means and the idea suggests something and they’ve got a record company behind them, it’s more than an idea.  It’s feasible, it’s doable. And in one second it takes a major leap to the real….to a doable thing and that’s what it was. And George and I looked at each other and went “Yeah, yeah, we can do this.”

Smitty:  Yeah, and you know what?  I said to myself….and perhaps you both said the same thing….I said “Why didn’t I think of this?” or “Why didn’t somebody do this before now?”

AJ:  Yeah, yeah.

Smitty:  “I said this is just such, like you said, a lead pipe cinch. This should’ve been done ten years ago.”

AJ:  That’s exactly right, that’s exactly right, and we had this “Why didn’t this happen…why didn’t you do this earlier?”  When we talked about the last record, my last record, the Accentuate the Positive record, and me and Tommy LiPuma coming together with Al Schmitt and doing a jazz project, and that’s what Accentuate the Positive was, a jazz project, not a bebop project, but really the first jazz project that I had done. While I’m called a jazz singer, 98% of my music is R&B and pop, and I slip some jazz in there underneath, some jazzy phrasings, and so I’m known as a jazz singer. And so, yeah, you’re absolutely right.  It could’ve happened a thousand years ago and why didn’t I think of that?  A whole bunch of people will be saying that.

Smitty:  Yeah, man.

AJ:  Yeah, but it takes more than the notion flitting through your head.

Smitty:  Yeah.

AJ:  Somebody’s got to say “Hey, we are a record company and I think this kind of project would be fantastic.  I’m gonna call in-house and ask George what they think about that. We can begin this Monday,” and we did. We blocked out the time. George and I were still on tour. We did a record in five weeks.

Smitty: That’s amazing!

AJ:  In five weeks. We had to. George and I were both leaving for summer tour. We did the record in April. 

Smitty:  Man oh man.

AJ:  Man oh man is right. It was painful.  I was out of town when the record got mixed.  Al Schmitt took the record and started mixing it, sent us mp3 versions of mixes.  “No, Al.  No, no, no.  You totally missed the…and where’s the shaker?  And that line where I’m (singing).  Hey, that’s gotta be louder. That’s the central part of the song.”  “Okay, I’ll work on that.”  It was absolutely bloody nuts and we did the record, Smitty.  (Both laughing.) Al Schmitt, who did not record the record, he was not the recording engineer.  We asked him to mix because he’s a great mixer of records like George. He mixed my record and mixed George’s records. A brilliant Grammy-winning mixer, and in fact the guy who you probably remember did my first record…recorded and mixed my first record. 

Smitty:  Yeah, Schmitty is a bad boy. He’s got some serious juice. I love what he did with Gladys Knight just recently with the Before Me album.  Unbelievable.

AJ: Oh, bless her heart.

Smitty:  Yes.  So, with Givin’ It Up the sound is distinctively up there.  It’s different.  You recognize it right away.  Because when you came in with that scat thing on “Breezin’” right away, I mean, it was automatic. This is something different.  This is really cool.

AJ: Yes.

Smitty:  It’s just got that crisp, real, raw, in your face…

AJ:  Edgy.

Smitty:  Yeah.

AJ:  (Laughs.)

Smitty:  Oh, I love it, man.  I love it.

AJ:  (Laughs.)  I’m so glad.

Smitty: I turned the volume up a little bit ‘cause I wanted to get up in it, you know?

AJ:  Yeah, mm-hmm.  (Both laughing.)

Smitty:  So I’ll tell you right now, Al, you, George and all the guys at Concord, Monster, John, Noel, all of ‘em, you have my full endorsement.  (Laughs.)

AJ:  Well, bless your heart. That’s great. I will say it.

Smitty:  "Breezin' ".. a great selection for the first song on the album ‘cause it just grabs you, it’s so magnetic!

AJ:  Right.

Smitty:  You know, “Come and get it ‘cause this is just the tip of the iceberg of what you’re gonna hear on the rest of this album.”

AJ:  That’s right. It makes that kind of opening statement that you know this one.

Smitty:  Yes.

AJ:  Here it is.  You know this one, but check it out. You haven’t heard it this way and we bet you’re gonna like this one too. Yeah, and we had some great guests, huh?

Smitty:  I’ll say. When I put the record on, after I kinda calmed down from listening to  “Breezin’” I grabbed the liner notes and I started reading and it’s like a lineup for about three or four summer festivals of headliners. And that speaks volumes.  I mean, that is a tremendous statement as to the respect that both of you have earned in this business.


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