Legendary 7 Times Pop-Jazz Grammy Winner, Al Jerreau Dies at Age 76
Al Jarreau, a Grammy Award-winning singer whose versatile tenor voice and vibrant stage style blurred the lines between jazz, soul and pop music, died Feb. 12 at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 76.
His publicist, Joe Gordon, announced the death, saying the singer had been treated for exhaustion, after announcing his retirement from touring last week. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Mr. Jarreau was loosely classified as a jazz singer, but his eclectic style was entirely his own, polished through years of obscure apprenticeship in lonely nightclubs. He did not release his first album until 1975, when he was 35, but within two years, he had won the first of his seven Grammy Awards and had begun to attract a wide following.
He was dubbed the “acrobat of scat” for the way he adopted the fast, wordless syllables of bebop jazz musicians, but he did not limit himself to the musical backdrop of an earlier generation. His approach emphasized the percussion-heavy and electronically amplified sound of rhythm-and-blues and funk music, and he had a particular gift for mimicking almost any kind of musical instrument or sound.
“Jarreau imitates the electronic and percussive hardware of the 1970s,” critic Robert Palmer wrote in Rolling Stone in 1979. “But he does more than that. He stands there and makes it all sound natural, singing so sweetly and unaffectedly you’d think he just happened on this remarkable vocal vocabulary.”
After winning awards and plaudits as a jazz singer, Mr. Jarreau found a wider audience with his 1981 album “Breakin’ Away,” which sold more than 1 million copies and included a Top 20 hit, “We're in This Love Together.” The album won Grammy Awards in the jazz and pop vocal categories, propelling Mr. Jarreau to widespread stardom.
He was soon appearing on television, touring with a 10-piece band and taking the stage with dramatic lighting and choreographed dance moves. He seemed poised for a popular breakthrough that never quite arrived.
Despite his Grammy Awards and growing acclaim, Mr. Jarreau groused that Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Al Green sold more records, even though they — in the view of many, including Mr. Jarreau — could not match his vocal chops.
As the 1980s wore on, Mr. Jarreau explored rock, reggae and international music and recorded the theme song for the TV series “Moonlighting.” His 1992 album “Heaven and Earth” won a Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, giving Mr. Jarreau Grammys in three categories.
He branched out into other fields, performing with symphony orchestras and acting on Broadway in 1996 in the role of Teen Angel in “Grease.”
As time went on, Mr. Jarreau returned to his early inspiration in straight-ahead jazz. He recorded an album of jazz standards in 2004 called “Accentuate the Positive,” which included songs by Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer and was considered a triumphant return to form.
“It's really the first jazz record I’ve ever done,” Mr. Jarreau told Billboard magazine. “Everything else that came before was pop and R&B. This is a thanks to the kind of music that made me the person I am today.”
Alwyn Lopez Jarreau was born March 12, 1940, in Milwaukee. His father, originally from New Orleans, was a former Seventh-day Adventist preacher, and his mother was a piano teacher. Mr. Jarreau sang gospel in church and doo-wop on street corners, absorbing the many musical styles of his melting-pot home town.