Last summer Grammy award-winning jazz-pop vocalist Al Jarreau was admitted to the hospital due to breathing problems while on tour in southern France. The 70-year-old was back on stage a month later following surgery for a heart arrhythmia. Having just returned from another European tour , the "Boogie Down" singer makes his way to Knight Theater Sunday. Jarreau, whose crossover hits include "We're in This Love Together" and "Moonlighting," spoke last week about emerging jazz artists and his upcoming records.
Q. In the pop world you were as well known as Lionel Richie or Stevie Wonder 25 years ago. Do you think it's harder today for jazz artists like Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding to reach that level of mainstream familiarity?
I do think it's a more difficult time for new jazz artists, but I wonder if it isn't a more difficult time in general for new artists unless you're in the thick of whatever is the pop craze. Today it's hip-hop. A little while back it was heavy metal and rock 'n' roll. People were trying to be heard above that and get in touch with a pretty rarefied audience - jazz listeners. It's part of the territory for people who have jazz leanings and jazz inclinations. I think they are familiar with the notion that it's a bit of a swim upstream. For me, too, in those early beginnings.
Q. Did branching into pop and R&B help?
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I think so. It opens the door to an audience that is probably easier to reach than if I were only doing straight-ahead jazz.
Q. What are you working on now?
George Duke and I recorded in 1965 and 1966 when we were both in San Francisco and breaking onto the scene. I was working as a rehab counselor, George as a student at the Conservatory. We had this club gig and George brought in an old Sony tape recorder. We're going to make it available late this month or early next month.
Q. What's it like hearing something you did 40 years ago?
Reliving those moments, revisiting who you were and where you were in your life at that point, especially in your evolution as a singer and a player, you can begin to see signs and signals of what we'll be in the future.
Q. Where do you see your next solo album going?
We found a collection of songs that really have great pop leanings. It'll resemble the records that I've usually done in the past in that it will be pop-ish and R&B-ish in focus rather than real jazz records.