Al Jarreau

Biography

"Accentuate the Positive is an important moment in the career of an important singer," says one Rolling Stone writer.  "With this remarkable record, Al Jarreau has found new freedom.  By applying a masterful maturity to brilliant material, he has extended his reach and deepened his expression. His vocal performances are nothing short of astounding."

Produced by Tommy LiPuma, who collaborated on earlier Jarreau albums-Glow (1976) and Look to the Rainbow (1977)-Accentuate the Positive is anchored in the aesthetic of peerless vocal jazz.  This is the singer's third project for The Verve Music Group and is being released on the Verve Records imprint, following the widely praised Tomorrow Today and All I Got, which were released on the GRP imprint.

"Accentuate is extremely special," explains Al, "not only because it reunites me with Tommy, producer extraordinaire, but because it's my first jazz oriented album.  The record is definitely jazz-y.  I've always floated between genres.  Sometimes I feel as though I fit in every category. And sometimes I feel as though I fit in none.  Yet jazz is the heart of the matter.  And Tommy's musical mind, which is steeped in jazz, perfectly understands my own jazz sensibility."

"I'd call Accentuate a more acoustic and less 'produced' album," LiPuma observes.  "The joy of Jarreau is his incredible musicianship, his taste, his jazz chops and his deeply felt soul. To highlight those qualities requires a certain restraint on the part of the producer.  The key is to let Al be Al. It's all about the pure beauty of his naked voice. My job was to create the right environment without overcrowding or overwhelming.  Less adornment, more Al.  I wanted to hear the jazz Al, the Al we haven't heard in some time."

"When it came to choosing material, we had a good meeting of the minds," LiPuma continues.  "We both brought songs to the table. We knew we wanted standards-jazz standards like 'I'm Beginning to See the Light' and 'Groovin' High'; American songbook standards like 'The Nearness of You' and 'My Foolish Heart'-but we also wanted Al's original creativity.  His delicate 'Lotus Blossom' and heartfelt 'Betty Bebop's Song', his tribute to Betty Carter, are among the most sensitive work he's ever done."

Accentuate the Positive accentuates Al's unique contributions as a songwriter/lyricist. "'Betty' is simply exquisite," says LiPuma, "and among the finest songs I've heard in years. Because Al is such a great singer, sometimes I think his gifts as a composer are overlooked. 'Betty Bebop's Song,' written with Freddie Ravel, should correct that oversight. And so should his highly poetic and subtle 'Lotus Blossom," his philosophical story set to Don Grolnick's melody."

As with his previous two GRP/Verve releases, Al continues to expand his expressiveness as a writer. In addition to 'Betty Bebop's Song' and 'Lotus Blossom', he has penned three other stand-out lyrics on Accentuate: Eddie Harris's extra-funky "Cold Duck", Dizzy Gillespie's famous "Groovin' High", and the sensuously slippery "Scootcha-Booty", written with Russell Ferrante.

"Accentuate brings out Al's maximum creativity, both as singer and writer," says LiPuma. "We were fortunate to get the best of all his talents.  This is Al Jarreau at his absolute height."

"Tommy's ability to create a space in which I'm both comfortable and challenged is a great blessing," adds Al. "The level of musicianship on this record was more than I could have hoped for. In Christian McBride, Anthony Wilson, Larry Williams, Peter Erskine, Mark Simmons, Larry Goldings, Tollack Ollestad, Keith Anderson, and Russell Ferrante, we had the best support possible."

"If it's landmark album-and I believe it is," says LiPuma, "credit goes to Al's ability to continually invent and surprise. He's one of our great creative artists."

That artistry began in his childhood home of Milwaukee where Jarreau, the son of a minister/foundry worker, sang with his brothers. An honor student in high school and college-he has a bachelor's degree in Liberals Arts and masters in Vocational Rehabilitation-Al hit the California jazz scene in the sixties.

In the seventies, his recording career exploded with We Got By, his 1975 debut album, followed by Glow in 1976. Critics went wild. Fans went wild. Sales soared. Celebrated for his startling originality and infectious joy, Jarreau became an instant icon.

The excitement built in the eighties and nineties. A succession of successful albums-This Time in 1980; million-selling Breakin' Away the following year-earned Jarreau superstar status. His rendition of the theme for TV's Moonlighting became a pop sensation.  Along the way, he was honored by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  More than fame, though, Jarreau won the undying admiration of his colleagues. Singer/songwriter Brenda Russell spoke for many when she wrote and recorded a song simply titled "Jarreau."

Al's international career kicked off in 1977 with his first world tour. Since then, he has regularly performed abroad, winning the hearts of music fans throughout Europe and Asia.  Defying all convention, Al has won a total of five Grammy awards and is the only singer ever to have won Best Vocalist Grammys in three separate and distinct categories-jazz, R&B and pop.

"That makes some sense," says Al, "when you look at my main influences. On one hand, there's Johnny Mathis, a tremendous pop vocalist. And then there's Jon Hendricks, a tremendous jazz vocalist.  Between the two, I've tried to find my own voice, one influenced even by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and the Beatles."

In Accentuate, an album framed by time-honored ballads like Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby", and the ethereally graceful "Midnight Sun", that voice rises to the challenge of some of this century's most enduring songs.  "To hear Al reinvent 'The Nearness of You' or 'My Foolish Heart' is to understand the depth of this man's rare sensitivity," says LiPuma.

His sense of whimsy and wordplay is evident on the sparkling uptempo tracks. "Cold Duck", "Groovin' High", and the helter-skelter "Scootcha-Booty" lighten the mood and tickle the funny bone.  "They're riotous," says LiPuma. "Rhythmically, Al has a genius for controlled frenzy."

At the heart of Al's view of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is "Accentuate the Positive".  Al reflects, "Maybe it's the first commandment.  And maybe all the other commandments also tell us to "Accentuate the Positive" and eliminate what's negative as we look for joy and happiness."

To be sure, the result in this new recording is a study of positive thought, positive conviction and positive musical action all poignantly revealed in a remarkably sparse and uncluttered setting.

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