Sometimes it's easy to forget Al Jarreau is a tremendous jazz singer. For more than 15 years his recordings have been in the soft R&B/adult contemporary vein. Even though he scats a little now and then, "Jarreau the jazz singer" has become a victim of "Jarreau the versatile pop singer," the only vocalist to win Grammy Awards in three different categories (jazz, pop and R&B). Jarreau shouldn't be faulted for his versatility, and jazz fans wouldn't be so upset about his current output if it weren't for one thing: The man can sing jazz.
Jarreau starting singing jazz in the mid-'60s and, after doing the L.A. club scene for a decade, made his major label debut in 1975 with We Got By. He was catapulted into jazz stardom at 35, a relatively young male jazz vocalist in an era when young male jazz vocalists were almost nonexistent. He sang wild scats, employing innovative tones and vocalese that owed a little debt to Jon Hendricks. His early scat style is a precursor to the vocal gymnastics Bobby McFerrin would perfect a decade later.
By the early '80s he was recording virtually nothing but pop. While 1981's Breakin' Away had some jazz moments, it was really his breakout crossover album. Subsequent albums (and singing the theme to Moonlighting) only solidified his pop position. That his 1996 Greatest Hits album includes an edited version of "Take Five," minus those pesky jazz scats that might scare his adult-contemporary fans, suggests that his former label, Warner Bros., was trying to distance Jarreau from his jazz roots. But Jarreau can't get away from jazz. In concert he's going to scat and make those neat little sounds that can come out of only his voice box. He's also rumored to have a straight-ahead jazz album in the works. If that's true, then all the better. The wait has been too long. (Paul J. MacArthur)
Al Jarreau performs at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place on Friday, August 13, at 8 p.m. Call (713)629-3700.
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Barenaked Ladies is the smartest, funniest, wittiest band in the world. Really.
The once-unknown Canadian band released its first record, Gordon, one day in '92, and the next day in '92, teenyboppers nationwide had the lyrics memorized: "If I had a million dollars, I'd buy you a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, that's cruel." Then the group landed a single on the Friends soundtrack and last summer hit No. 1 with "One Week," off the triple-platinum Stunt.
The Ladies are smart, non-Vanilla-Ice white people who rap. The band, in fact, does a custom-made localized rap at every show. The singers will talk about that little diner that only hip people know or make a joke about the mayor. (Wendy Grossman)
Barenaked Ladies performs at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Saturday, August 14. Call (713) 629-3700.