March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as Alwin Lopez Jarreau.
Finding His Way
Al Jarreau started singing as a child in the churches and living rooms of his native Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was a minister and singer, and his mother was a church pianist. After studying Psychology at Ripon College, and Vocal Rehabilitation at the University of Illinois, a weekly gig in San Francisco with pianist George Duke convinced Jarreau to pursue music full-time.
His Voice - His Instrument
Jarreau is known in some circles as the first jazz singer to beatbox, or imitate percussion instruments with his voice. In addition to scat singing elastically over challenging chord changes, Jarreau typically accompanies piano or bass solos with his unique brand of vocal percussion.
While musical genre is typically determined by repertoire, one of the many ways that Jarreau has avoided classification is by singing the same way regardless of setting. Many of his jazz albums are tinged with pop or R&B influences, and his pop records display a jazz sensibility. For instance, his 1977 live album Look to the Rainbow, for which he won Best Jazz Vocal Performance at the Grammys that year, includes “Take Five” in addition to the pop songs “You Don’t See Me,” “Loving You,” and “Letter Perfect.” These contradictions of style are indicative of a prolific artist who creates honest music while the music industry at large struggles to classify his output.
Award Winner, Jazz Luminary
Al Jarreau is a seven-time Grammy Award winner, and is the only singer to be presented the award in Jazz three times, and twice in the Pop and R&B category. With a career spanning over 30 years, Jarreau is still an active performer, and undoubtedly one of the most unique and prolific jazz singers who ever lived.