Liner Notes – Al Jarreau

Born: March 14, 1940

In the mid 70’s to early 80’s I had the great pleasure of interviewing James Brown, The Spinners, Roy Ayers, Chapter 8 with Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, Billy Preston, Hall & Oates, Phillip Ingram (James Ingram’s brother) of the group Switch and more.  One interview that I craved but never got to conduct for WJLB Radio in Detroit, was that of Mr. Al Jarreau.  I was at the station at the time he came through on a promo jaunt but didn’t get the nod from my General Manager, the late Norman Miller.  I was called from home to come in to interview James Brown, for which I am truly grateful, but I was at the station when Al Jarreau visited and still deprived of the honor to have a chat with the man who ushered in a new way of singing jazz.  I don’t remember who did the interview, probably J. Michael McKay since it took place in the midday, but I’m sure whoever it was didn’t want to miss out on that rare opportunity to talk to such a uniquely talented performer either.

I missed another chance to kick it one-on-one with Al Jarreau in the late 80’s.  I had left radio and was into my new profession of acting.  I was in Palm Springs, California, the most beautiful desert you ever did want to visit.  Anyway, during down time from my acting gig, I’m just walking down the street by this luxurious mall and along comes this guy, just moseying along with a woman on his arm and I thought I knew him so I gave off the weirdest look; the painful look that comes with me trying to get my brain to remember where I know someone from before they pass me by.  Did we go to Elementary, Jr. High, High School together… or do I know him from the church I attended as a child… who is this guy?  When he was about half a block away it hit me, “Oh man, he looks so familiar to me because that’s Al Jarreau!”  I looked back, he was looking back at me seemingly thinking, “I hope this dude doesn’t try to rob us.”  I mean, I did have the weirdest expression on my face as he passed me by; I would’ve felt the same way.  At that point I wasn’t gonna run him down and risk spooking him some more… so I just let it go as another missed moment to get into the brain of such an inventive artist.  I continued down the street in the opposite direction wondering, “Was that woman he was with the Susan he sang about?”

What I remember about Al Jarreau when he first burst onto the music scene, was that he got his first hit in 1975 at the ripe age of 35.  Given that the music business stereotypically tends to be a young person’s profession, it was cool that he was coming into prominence at this advanced age.  But jazz has no age limits and no style boundaries so Al fit right in perfectly with his new way of singing… sometimes vocally instrumentalizing… you know, his signature vocalizing of the guitar or percussion instruments.  It set him apart from everybody else right from the jump.  When I heard, We Got By,” and “Susan’s Song,” from his first album for Warner Brothers, also titled “We Got By,” I was outdone.  The green album cover of a floor-sitting Al Jarreau was the essence of Cool and Jazz.  Thank God for format freedom back then because at an R&B station today, the Deejays might not be allowed to play songs like, “We Got By,” “Spirit” and “You Don’t See Me.” But back then, we could play Grover Washington’s nine minute jazz instrumental, “Mr. Magic,” hit you with an album cut by Earth Wind & Fire like, “See The Light,” then come out of that with a hit R&B single like Rufus’, “Sweet Thing.” Or we could go into a half hour of just playing back-to-back R&B, Jazz and Reggae jams like John “Smooth” Edwards of WJLB might do or play the whole Donny Hathaway Live album like Ron White of WCHB used to do.  Over on WGPR, Marvelous Marv or the late Tuff Terry might just rip it up with an hour of dance music because they just felt like it and the lack of format allowed them to do so.  Now I’m digressing… and salivating a little bit, too.

Al Jarreau’s arrival into our musical lives takes me back to a time when good music was appreciated regardless of genre and Detroit area radio played a plethora of styles on any given R&B station; WJLB, WCHB and WGPR.  A time when each Deejay had his own style and taste in music and shared his/her discovered nuggets with his/her audience… a time when Al Jarreau spoke to my growin’ up poor experience in an incredibly warm and emotional song, “We Got By.”

 I’m going to leave you with two videos that will also take you back to that time of which I speak; check out the 1976 live performances of “We Got By” and “Susan’s Song,” by Al Jarreau.  Talking ‘bout Cool!!!!!!  Enjoy.

Yours musically,
Reuben Yabuku