TWO PEOPLE IN THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME TIME
This past week saw the unfortunate passing of Jazz great, Al Jarreau, just a few days after he had announced his retirement. Situations like these are always sad, particularly when we associate anyone’s foray into retirement as a long awaited time of relaxation and freedom.
There certainly have been a lot celebrities that have died lately some have hit us harder than others, usually because we associated them with a memory they had a part in, a movie, song, even a phrase that stuck with us, etc. But when Al Jarreau death was made public recently, it hit me harder than just another celebrity’s death.
This event brought back memories of my seventeenth year when as I had just graduated from high school and told myself that what I really wanted to do with my life was to try my hand at becoming a professional singer. I knew my chances were slim but I told myself that if I never tried, I would always regret it. So, knowing that the first step was getting a demo made, I looked through the telephone book (some of you know what that is) to find a recording studio, find out the costs and someone willing to help me make it.
Now, I’m sure I made a number of calls that day but that part’s a bit hazy. What I do remember is making a call to the Dave Kennedy Recording Studio and actually speaking to Dave himself. I explained my situation to him and found him to be open and willing to make my request a reality. I did tell him that I didn’t want to waste his time or my money if I didn’t have “what it takes.” Dave understood where I was coming from and offered a way for him to give me an objective opinion of my talent prior to jumping in head first to the time and expense to make a demo.
Much to my surprise, he told me that his group had a gig that evening at the Y and said if I wanted to sing a couple of numbers with the band, he’d give me his honest opinion as to whether the expense of making a demo was worth my while. I remember being blown away that even though he didn’t know me, he was willing to let me sing with his group but knew it was an important step in determining whether or not to move forward.
You’d think I would have been nervous that night, a man and group I knew nothing about and singing a song or two with them, but I remember not being worried at all. After they were done with their set, Dave gave me his stamp of approval and laid out how he could bring the cost down for me. He told me that if I had to hire studio musicians and pay an hourly fee to rent the studio, it would be “big bucks” and given that I was a recent high school graduate, he knew I would have a difficult time footing the bill for such endeavor.
His solution was to use something called “Music minus One,” in essence a record that had a full-orchestra accompaniment minus the voice. He explained that we could go in the studio and the orchestra accompaniment would be playing in a set of headphones and I could add my voice which he would record. That was a great idea and one I whole-heartedly went for. I’d have a full orchestral sound with minimal cost, something that I could readily handle financially.
A few days later, after hours and hours of practice, I went into the studio and recorded one ballad and two up-tempo numbers. He also provided me with a list of Recording Companies so that I could start submitting my demos as soon as they were made. I was beside myself when Dave called a few weeks later to tell me my demos were finished and I made an appointment to come to the studio to pick them up. We sat down in his office and he explained that demos were not like regular records, they weren’t made to play more than a couple times. If they were, the quality would suffer as the grooves would widen with each playing.
During our meeting, Dave was called away unexpectedly but he said he’d be right back.
It was maybe 10 to 15 minutes later when he returned obviously upset with what had just transpired and I asked him what had happened. It was then he said he was kicking himself because he had arranged for a talent agent to come to his studio to hear a young Milwaukee singer who he felt had exceptional talent, someone Dave had told the agent he needed to hear. The audition with this record company’s talent agent was all set to begin when Dave told the agent, “Wait till you hear him. He’s another Johnny Mathis!” That’s when the agent said, “I don’t want to hear anybody who’s like someone else. I’m looking for someone whose talent is unique!” The young man wasn’t even given the chance to sing because of what Dave had said.
I‘m not sure if I asked what the young man’s name was or whether Dave volunteered it, but the young man’s name was Al Jarreau. For many years I would periodically think of him and wonder what became of him, whether or not he pursued a singing career or not or if that time in Dave’s studio was the end of his career. Then one day in the 80’s I read that a guy named Al Jarreau had recorded the theme song for a new TV show called Moonlighting, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. I loved that show and in learning that Al Jarreau did the theme song I felt, in some small way, that I knew him. Silly, I know, since we had ultimately only been in the same place at the same time but never met. In the years that followed, his name and records came up occasionally but as he was primarily a jazz personality, I didn’t hear him often.
So that’s my Al Jarreau story. Still, a death is always sad and his life was cut short. He was only 76, four years older than I’ll be this year and that always hits me hard because I feel like I’ve got so many years ahead and things I want to do.