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DOWNEY – Al Jarreau is a rich man, although his definition of wealth probably differs from yours and mine.
It was nearly 50 years ago when Jarreau, despite having spent nearly a decade in school earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in vocational rehabilitation, quit his job as a rehabilitation counselor to follow his passion in music.
It was a gutsy move, if not the most sensible, but the reward was immediate.
“It was the most joyous day of my life when I decided to do music full time,” Jarreau told the Patriot this week. “It was the most freeing experience – no more going to work anymore in an office or classroom. Being able to enjoy a coffee in the morning, read the paper, smell the roses. I decided I was going to sink or swim.”
The freedom allowed Jarreau to gain a greater appreciation for the simplicities of life and nurture his musical genius, resulting in seven Grammy Awards in three different genres, a feat matched only by the late pop icon Michael Jackson.
While many of us may fantasize of ditching the soul-sucking tedium of a 9 to 5 job – “take this job and shove it!” – to blaze our own path to worldwide fame, Jarreau quit dreaming and actually did it.
That is what makes Al Jarreau different.
That is what makes Al Jarreau rich.
At age 73, Jarreau still tours extensively, including an estimated 192 shows between 2011-2013. Where does his work ethic come from?
“Gotta come from Milwaukee, man. People from the Midwest love to work,” Jarreau laughed. “It’s that ethic instilled in me as a kid – you get up and you do it. And you prepare, and you keep on preparing. And you find something that you like to do and maybe that’s something you can do to earn your way.
“Today I woke up happy to go to work,” Jarreau said. “I love playing music. It’s my passion so I get up and do it. I would do it for free if I had to.”
Influenced by the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, Jarreau creates music that transcends genres. Nowhere is that more evident that in his portfolio of Grammy wins, which include awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance (2), Best Pop Vocal Performance (1), Best R&B Vocal Performance (1), Best Traditional R&B Performance (1) and even Best Recording for Children (for his performance on a “Sesame Street” record).
“I allowed myself to be formed by my experiences,” Jarreau explained. “I was the next to youngest of six children. They sang and loved jazz, and brought it into the house. I sang it in the living room and it formed a lot of my thinking as a neophyte singer myself. I was singing in the church, I was singing in grade school — it was part of my foundation. I was on the street corner singing ‘be bop doo,’ finger snapping; I was singing doo wop before it was called doo wop.
“I allowed all those influences to come out in my music,” he continued. “I refused to be pigeon holed and stripped of things that were part of my musical soul. It was almost without knowing or caring that I was doing anything special.”
Despite his success – Time Magazine called him “the greatest jazz singer alive” – Jarreau maintains he is not living a lifestyle of the rich and famous, which make the multiple Grammy wins (and nominations) that much more special.
“A Grammy nomination is especially important for a guy like me,” Jarreau said. “I’ve got a stature in the industry that you might think is matched by a bank account. It’s not. If I don’t work this year, someone comes and gets my house next year.
“I haven’t made a lot of money, haven’t sold a gazillion records. I’ve sold some that went gold back in the 80s and 90s but a record going gold doesn’t make a lot of money for the artist, not really. You have to have multiple platinums.”
Jarreau is currently in the studio working on his latest album, with a release date to be determined.
His concert Saturday at the Downey Theatre will be a homecoming of sorts. His wife, Susan, was born and raised in Downey and plans to be in the audience.
“I’ve never performed in Downey before so I’ll be exploring new territory,” Jarreau said. “I’m really looking forward to this.”
Al Jarreau performs at the Downey Theatre this Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50-$60 and can be purchased at the theater box office, online at downeytheatre.com or by calling (562) 861-8211.
Published: Oct. 10, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 26