Jarreau Says Return To Jazz Is Really A First

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Al Jarreau is a master of pop, R&B and jazz singing. He grooves in the funky zone, romances with artful fluidity and scats with syncopated glee.

He's as much influenced by such players as pianist Bill Evans, saxophonist Ben Webster and trumpeter Miles Davis as he is by such singers as Jon Hendricks.

On Jarreau's new CD, "Accentuate the Positive," released by Verve Aug. 3, he sings ballads and cookers with timeless grace and ebullience. The album -- his third for the label and 13th overall -- reunites Jarreau with producer Tommy LiPuma.

LiPuma was at the helm of Jarreau's breakthrough discs, "Glow" (1976) and "Look to the Rainbow" (1977), which scored a Grammy Award for best jazz vocals.

While Verve is promoting the new album as Jarreau's first jazz release in 27 years, he begs to differ.

"It's really the first jazz record I've ever done," he says. "Everything else that came before was pop and R&B. If people called the early stuff jazz, that's fine. I learned the book of standards as a jazz singer early on and I took Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' for a jazzy vocal excursion, but growing up I was also in love with Motown's Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Martha & the Vandellas."

So, why the jazz bent now?

"It was time," Jarreau says. "Actually, it was overdue. My audience has been asking for a full-on, straight-ahead jazz album. So, it's for them as well as myself. This is a thanks to the kind of music that made me the person I am today."

While Jarreau covers such classics as Johnny Mercer's "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" and Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light," he also supplies new lyrics to five tunes. Highlights of the disc include his playful, swinging vocal treatments of Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" (retitled "Cold Duck") and Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High."

Jarreau also linked up with Yellowjackets pianist Russell Ferrante to write the rollicking party-time "Scootcha-Booty."

"I went to Russell's house with a little piece of music to work on, and this song evolved in 10 minutes," Jarreau says. "The way Russell plays that left-hand bass line is funkier than a dog. He's so brilliant."

At 64, the high-spirited Jarreau says he has found what Ponce de Leon was looking for. "Music is the fountain of youth. The creative process rejuvenates me. I live to experience that vitality."

On Aug. 20, Jarreau will headline the CD101.9 New York Jazz Festival at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. It continues through Aug. 22 with David Sanborn, Regina Belle, Michael Brecker, India.Arie, Kim Waters, Brian Culbertson, Soulive and Rite of Strings, a super group including Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Excerpted from the "Jazz Notes" column in the Aug. 21, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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