Al Jarreau, one of the 20th Century’s premier jazz vocalists, died on Sunday, February 12, 2017, in Los Angeles at the age of 76.
The seven-time Grammy winner had recently announced his retirement from the entertainment business after being hospitalized for exhaustion. Jarreau had also fought through respiratory and cardiac issues in recent years.
Jarreau was the kind of vocalist who always put a smile on my face whenever I’d hear him come on the radio. I loved the of-era theme song he did for one of my favorite TV shows from the late-’80s, Moonlighting, and “We’re in This Love Together,” his hit single from 1981’s Breakin’ Away and a prime example of the classic early-’80s L.A. studio sound, remains a perennial favorite.
A voice as special as Jarreau’s is often best heard in hi-res, and the good news is, there are a few decent options available to hear Al at his literal best. For example, over on HDtracks, Jarreau’s wholly on-point 2014 release, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, can be obtained in 96kHz/24-bit. (My Old Friend wound up spending two weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Contemporary Jazz Albums and Current Jazz charts.)
You may have to dig around a bit to find these next two releases, but both are worth the effort. In 2006, Monster Music, in conjunction with Concord Records, released George Benson & Al Jarreau’s Givin’ It Up, a limited-edition double-disc set featuring a High Definition Surround (HDS) 5.1 mix engineered by Don Murray and mastered by Bernie Grundman. In the liner notes, Jarreau observed, “In High Definition Surround, you can reach in and touch George’s guitar, you can reach in and touch the singer’s lips. It’s like being there as the music is created.”
My favorite track on this one is the opening cut, their two-man take on Benson’s signature song, “Breezin’,” followed closely by the album’s final track, which also features the vocals of a certain Paul McCartney: their collective spin on Sam Cooke’s timeless classic, “Bring It on Home to Me.”
I had the honor of seeing Benson and Jarreau perform much of the Givin’ material together, along with special guest vocalist Patti Austin, exactly a decade ago at the Monster Cable Retailer Awards event at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas during CES in January 2007, and it was a special evening I’ll never forget.
Finally, there’s an SACD version of Jarreau’s 2002 album on Verve/GRP, All I Got, which features a stunning 5.1 mix by the incomparable Al Schmitt, with an assist from Steve Genewick (who also happen to be two of my prime compatriots at the 2017 Hi Res Music Pavilion panels I hosted at CES 2017, BTW). My top tracks here include Jarreau’s duet with Joe Cocker, “Lost and Found,” and his breathtaking a cappella version of “Route 66,” which closes the album. Absolutely sublime.
In a statement released on Sunday, Concord Records President John Burk said of Jarreau, “We feel very fortunate to have worked with Al, one of the most distinctive and extraordinary vocalists in music. He was truly a force of nature and a beautiful human being that will be fondly remembered and deeply missed by us all.” I’ll second that. Rest well, dear sweet Al.