What is it that makes a great musical artist? A Bing Crosby, a Paul Robeson, a Frank Sinatra, a Nat “King” Cole? They were all great singers, great story tellers, great personalities. But there was something else, as well. Something that took them above and beyond the level of singers who were similarly successful, well-known and best selling. Something that made their every performance, their every recording into a memorable experience.
The answers, I’d say, can still be experienced today, in their full creative blossom, whenever Al Jarreau stands in front of a microphone, smiles his engaging smile, and lets the music flow. Like the stellar names I’ve listed above, Al has a golden musical touch. And, like Crosby defining the holidays with “White Christmas,” Robeson transforming “Ballad For Americans,” like Sinatra vividly bringing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to life, and Nat Cole finding the elusive message of “Nature Boy,” Al doesn’t just sing a song, he inhabits it.
Over the course of Al's remarkable, five decade-plus career, all these attributes coalesced into one of the music world's most uniquely eclectic voices, as well as one of the globe's most universally popular artists. He is only the second artist – Michael Jackson was the first -- to win Grammy Awards in the jazz, pop and r&b categories. And he has done so because of his unerring ability to bring authenticity to each of those styles.
Having made the case for Al as one of the great musical artists, fully worthy of being grouped with the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson and Nat “King” Cole, among others, I must also add that he would probably be the last to claim such exalted status. Despite his fully justified inclusion in the ranks of music world royalty, a complete view of Al must also include the modesty that drives his dedication to giving his all, on stage or in the studio – as dependable and productive as a blue collar good guy who knows what it means to work hard to make an honest dollar. One who feels genuine joy in what he does, and communicates that joy to his listeners.
Al Jarreau, in other words, is not just a great musical artist. He’s the real deal.