Al Jarreau laughs a lot. For a 73-year-old singer who recently finished a four-week solo tour of Europe and averages 70 shows a year, he’s still got plenty of sheer delight for what he does, whether it’s jazz, pop, R&B, or Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers. And when he goes onstage with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday at the Washington State Fair, he’ll bring that delight to fans on a grander scale.
A seven-time Grammy winner, and the only vocalist to win in three separate categories, Jarreau is as well-known for his unique vocal abilities as his longevity in the business. A crooner who can morph into scat singing and imitating bass, drums or guitar, he’s equally at home singing classics such as “Sophisticated Lady” or his 1981 soft blues hit “We’re In This Love Together.” Since 1999, he has been doing orchestra gigs, and his latest album was recorded live with the Dutch Metropole Orkest.
The smooth voice that broke onto the San Francisco scene in the late 1960s has become a little more scratchy with time, but it has lost none of its agility, and Jarreau keeps busy with a new album and a tour in the works.
In a chirpy tenor, with plenty of jokes, Jarreau told The News Tribune over the phone why he’s glad to be back at the Washington State Fair, singing the tunes he loves with a symphony.
Q: You came to the fair in 2008, with The Manhattan Transfer. Are you glad to be back?
A: Yes, of course! And to do my show in a way people have not seen me do before. That’s always a special occasion, when I’m singing with the symphony.
Q: What’s special about singing with an orchestra?
A: I hope it’s obvious to the listener — that it’s to hear all this familiar music expanded to the biggest expansion music can have on this planet. Sure, with electronics you can do anything you want to make the music outrageous. But when you use an orchestra and you bring together all these musicians and the music of the last 200 years, it’s an incredible experience. Every singer since (Frank) Sinatra has wanted to sing with an orchestra. All the possibilities, all the colors are there.
Q: Tell us about what you’ll be singing with the Tacoma Symphony.
A: I’ll do a program I’ve been doing with symphonies for 15 years now. It’s not what I did with the Metropole; there’s a different emphasis. I’m going to sing “We’ll Get By” and “Raindrops on Roses.” Then I do one I call the “Jarreau-verture.” It’s an overture of songs that are Al Jarreau hits! I’ll sing a couple of things from “Porgy and Bess,” and Bach’s “Air on the G String” that I wrote some lyrics to. That’s unrecorded, that one. Folks will hear stuff they know, and they’ll have a good chuckle and be delighted to hear things they haven’t heard before. It’s fun. The joy is to pay attention to what the orchestra is playing. ... You listen to the line of the oboe, or to the strings as they play some accompaniment. That’s the stuff that makes it a different performance.
Q: You’ve had such a long career, and you just keep on going. How do you keep things fresh?
A: I take delight in making something that causes people to laugh and smile for a while in this crazy world. It’s all of that stuff. I like reading my mail — people listen to my music when times are dark for them. It’s healing. There’s nothing more important than that. It’s God’s work. I’m in the cardiology business — lifting the heart!
Q: And what’s your secret for keeping on loving what you do, despite the difficulties of touring and performing?
A: I look forward to that experience with people — that’s what makes you want to do the work. I get to sit down and write new music — that’s important for me, to complete a new chapter of a song or record. All of that helps to keep you going when you get to my age, which is 45!
Q: What about health-wise?
A: I’ve always thought of a singer as an athlete. I keep pretty fit. I exercise in the morning, eat healthily, keep the bad habits down.
Q: Tell us something the fans don’t know about Al Jarreau.
A: Well — you’re looking for scandal, now, aren’t you? I need some more scandal in my life! But here’s something — I’ve just written a song for Taylor Swift called “It’s Wonderful to Know.” I think she’s headed for the big screen. She’s got a presence and a sparkle in her demeanor, and I think this song would be good for an animated film. I think she would be perfect for it, and I hope she’ll sing it. In the meantime, I’ll sing it!
Al Jarreau with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Washington State Fair concert stage, 110 Ninth Ave. SW, Puyallup