We may scoff at his constantly smiling public persona — not to mention vintage bits of ’80s cheese like the “Mornin'” video — but anyone who tries to deny Al Jarreau’s talent is simply a fool, and we’re not too proud to admit we were, to borrow a phrase used in an earlier Darren Robbins post, “chuffed to the ‘nads” to have a few minutes on the phone with the voice that made Grammy history with wins in the pop, jazz, and R&B categories. You aren’t too cool for Al, kids — quite the opposite. In fact, he was too cool to answer some of our questions directly, but we accept that. Jarreau exists on another, hipper plane, which is why this interview kicks off Al Jarreau Week here at Popdose. Meet us at the roof garden from now ’til Friday!

Mr. Al Jarreau! How are you?

I’m okay! Sorry I’m late. I’m just sort of stumbling, bumbling, tumbling downhill. Where’s a tree stump when you need one? It’s not today, it’s everything up to today, and what I gotta do tomorrow! (Laughs) That’s good stuff, you know. Having things that demand your presence and require you to be on the job!

Like this new Love Songs compilation. How did that come about? You haven’t been affiliated with Warner Bros. for awhile now…

Yeah, well, it should have happened years ago! In fact, seven years ago, this package got put together. My wife did it — she put it together, and said, “You should have a Valentine’s project, Al. You should do a compilation of all the love songs — you’re a love song ballad singer, and people are asking for these songs in concert, so put one together and call it Al’s Valentine Card,” you know? So all I did to complete this was to add a few things from newer projects, and make sure that “Like a Lover” was included.

So yeah, we did the project with Rhino, which is my Warner Bros. affiliation these days, and we spent some time talking about various thises, thats, and the others, and I’m just tickled to death about this as a project. I’ve listened to it in bits and pieces as we put it together, making sure that the levels are correct, ’cause we took things from all over the place — that’s part of the problem, you know, putting together a project like this. It’s a very serious engineering project, making sure things have a similar kind of sound, and that the sound is fresh — and a lot of this music was recorded 20 years ago or more. But I think it’s a wonderful, lovely project. The other day, we did a Barnes & Noble appearance, and the record played several times, and the whole time, I’m going “God, that really sounds good!(Laughs)

On the subject of love songs, I think the recording of “Since I Fell for You” that you did with David Sanborn and Bob James is the definitive version.

Yeah, we love that sentiment. Oh, it hurts so good! Baby! Yeah, the bittersweet. That’s a big part of the percentage of love songs — there are a lot of songs about being in pain, so yeah, “Since I Fell for You” is a very important love song. David and Bob and I all worked on that, and yeah, so yeah, very important that it’s there and part of the project.

Bob James and David Sanborn featuring Al Jarreau, “Since I Fell for You” (download)

So what happens next for you? What are you working on now?

Well, I was just talking with Larry Williams about whether or not I’m going to sing today. We’re working on my first Christmas record, and we’ve tracked eight or nine things already, and it’s time for me to sing, but I’ve been going so hard, and I caught cold and…it’s hard to tumble downhill when you’re trying to cough. I was just with Stanley Clarke and George Duke yesterday, and we’re on our way to Russia, to do basically an unplugged evening in Moscow.

Any plans to record that show?

No, but I’m sure machines will be humming, whether we give our permission or not. (Laughs) Depending on how things go, the three of us should definitely sit and listen to the tapes and see what we’ve done. So — yeah. First Christmas record will come in ’08, and we’re going to do that with Rhino. And we’ve already got a new best-of selection of songs picked, and I’m writing a new piece as we speak for that, and I will work with Joe Turano from Milwaukee, my second keyboard player and great writer. So, some things coming up in the next year. Three, probably three releases, including a good healthy start on the next “regular” studio album. I’ve already met with a new producer who I’m not really at liberty to mention right now, but he’s a hot new producer, and we think we’ve got something to say together, but I shouldn’t commit him at this point, because we’re still kind of walking around each other, you know? Like wrestlers do. Kind of growling at each other, like “Grrrrrrrrrrr. I think we could make some good music together.” (Laughs)

It’s great to have your number continuing to be called, because there are lots of people who aren’t. This is a very disposable society that we live in, and recording artists have known this for a long time. Here today, gone tomorrow. George [Benson] and I are kinda lookin’ at each other and saying “Thank God they’re still calling our number!”

You’ve been fortunate enough to keep delivering when it is called, too — you’ve put out some of your best records later in your career, like 1994’s Tenderness

That was a live album, and whatever people felt with that record happens regularly with my live performances. If I’ve made a mistake — other than Accentuate the Positive (Laughs) — it’s not making more live recordings. We have a good batting average, me and my audience. We’re hittin’ at .800! People should hear that more often. That way of doing things becomes more and more difficult because we’ve really headed a different direction in terms of producing music, but I still need to try and make that happen, live recording. It’s a very special situation for me.

Mmm-hmm. I think Heaven and Earth was a good one, and Accentuate the Positive — nobody but my sisters and brothers bought it, but I thought it was a good record. I called it my jazz project, and I thought there was a whole world of people waiting for me to do my first jazz record, and I was wrong! (Laughs) My wife Susan said, “You and [producer] Tommy [LiPuma] want to get put out to pasture, huh?” She heard that music and declared from the beginning — “I love you, Al, and I love Tommy, too, but people aren’t listening to this kind of music, guys. Wake up!” In time, it may be the best-selling record that I’ve ever made, but I guessed it wrong at the time. I thought there were more people looking for that kind of project from me than it turns out that there were. But still, lots of music to do. I don’t know when it’s gonna happen, but I’m gonna make this big band record. We were real close to having it happen just here recently — I went and did 18 dates with the Northern Germany Radio Band. If they aren’t number one, they’re in the first two or three big bands. They don’t come to America because the American big bands aren’t working, because jazzy music in general isn’t getting attention, but they’re electrifying. We still may try to make that happen while they and I still have the program we did fresh under our fingers.

Al Jarreau, “Groovin’ High” (download)

So yeah, having your number called is nice, and having NARAS send me and George home with two Grammys and three nominations, it’s reassuring. On a personal level, but just kind of in general, as is Herbie Hancock winning Record of the Year this year. You know, it’s reassuring to see that there are people who are listening to music that’s beyond the music of the day. You know, current music is so lopsided and one-sided that it’s scary. It’s great to see the industry respond to what I think of as good, solid music even if we have to call it “traditional.” (Laughs) Traditional is a dirty word! It’s a four fucking letter word! Traditional. That means it’s irrelevant! It’s got to have “fuck” in it, and “bitch” in it, in order to be relevant. You understand what I’m sayin’, homeboy? See what I’m sayin’? It’s gotta have all of that, and anything that doesn’t have that is kicked to the curb and considered irrelevant. Out of step with the times. It’s very important that you quote me on that. (Laughs) But from time to time, it’s nice to get a glimpse of that other approach, and to see the industry encouraging people who want to pursue music for its intrinsic values. That’s why I’m here. I love the music. I never made a bunch of money — I love the music. And we need to encourage people who want to do it because they love the music.

Al Jarreau and George Benson – “Don’t Start No Schtuff” (download)

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Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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