Jazz artist Al Jarreau has won a handful of Grammys, traveled the world and released several albums during the past four decades.
Jazz artist Al Jarreau has won a handful of Grammys, traveled the world and released several albums during the past four decades. (SUBMITTED)

On a recent Friday, jazz vocalist Al Jarreau was sitting by a window in his Van Nuys, Calif., home looking out at the landscape in the early afternoon sunshine.

"I'm up at the crack of noon," he said with a laugh. "Guys who hit the industry as jazzers, or night club performers . . . develop different kinds of habits."

Jarreau, 70, became a night owl while playing clubs in the '60s and '70s. He'd hang out after shows with fellow musicians, often watching the sunrise or grabbing breakfast before getting some sleep.

He became a musician when he was 4. His father was a Milwaukee preacher and his mother was a church organist.

During his spare time, his father would play the musical saw by squeezing the handle of a wood saw between his legs, bending the blade and drawing a bow across the back edge to create a note.

"It sounded like the music in a spooky movie," Jarreau said. "It's very pretty."

Jarreau, who was the fifth of six children, started singing in the choir, which was accompanied by his mother. He joined school choirs and by high school was singing tenor solos in an a cappella group and performing in musicals.

His older brothers and sisters introduced him to jazz music and played records by Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie.

"They were part of my breakfast cereal in the morning," he said.

As a teen he imitated Chess Records groups and snuck into shows when doo-wop and Motown performers came to town. But performing with Wisconsin group The Indigos during college cemented his love of jazz.

However, he was "taking a very practical approach to life and what it might have to offer" and earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from Ripon College, attended a graduate program for rehabilitation counseling, and worked for four years at a rehab center in San Francisco.

"I think it changed me as person and kind of sensitized (me) to other stuff . . . behind the Hollywood smile," he said. He added that his experience might have come out in his music, a passion he couldn't shake.

So, after realizing that he wasn't cut out for the clerical part of social work, he decided to pursue it as a full-time career. Luckily for him, the music and counterculture scene was exploding in San Francisco during the late '60s.

Jarreau met and played with jazz pianist George Duke, who then went on to work with Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley.

After pursing samba and bossa nova, Jarreau wound up in a club called Dino's Lodge, a former Rat Pack hangout where the TV show "77 Sunset Strip" was based.

The rest, Jarreau said, is history. During the next four decades, he earned a handful of Grammys, traveled the world and released several albums. His pace was nonstop until July when he landed in intensive care in a French hospital and was forced to cancel some tour dates. "As time goes by the pipes get older," Jarreau said. "I got a shortness of breath on the run that scared me. I said, 'Hold on here . . . this doesn't feel good to me.'"

During his hospital visit, doctors found abnormalities with his heart cells. He underwent a procedure to remove access fluid around the cells and started taking medication. Ever since, he said he's had a clean bill of health.

Jarreau said he knows he's lucky to be able to perform at his age. One of his fellow singers from The Indigos is critically ill, he said.

"It's really been a wonderful ride, a rainbow ride," he said. He added that he hasn't found a pot of gold literally, but he has found joy in working on a new CD, which he said will be out in the next year.

- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF

If you go

WHAT: Al Jarreau concert

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St. in York

COST: $43, $53 and $63

DETAILS: www.strandcapitol.org

Al Jarreau's Grammy wins

2006 - Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance award (Al Jarreau, George Benson and Jill Scott) for "God Bless The Child"

1992 - Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male award for "Heaven and Earth"

1981 - Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male award for "Breakin' Away"

1981 - Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male award for "Blue Rondo A La Turk"

1978 - Best Jazz Vocal Performance award for "All Fly Home"

1977 - Best Jazz Vocal Performance award for "Look to the Rainbow"

Source: www.grammy.com