On the same day as the Grammy Awards, the music community suffered a great loss. Al Jarreau, a gifted artist that seamlessly blended jazz, pop, and R&B, passed away February 12 at the age of 76. The only vocalist to win Grammys in the jazz, pop, and R&B categories, Jarreau never stopped exploring different musical genres while maintaining his distinctive singing style: rapid-fire scat and using his voice as a percussive instrument. Even when he charted crossover hits such as "We're in This Love Together" or even the Moonlighting TV theme, he never lost sight of his jazz roots. Such a genre-spanning sound is in full effect on "Mornin'," the smooth but bright track off his 1983 album Jarreau.
Jarreau's journey in music took a few detours. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1940, he was introduced to music early: his mother was a piano teacher and church organist, while his father was a minister and singer. While Jarreau sang in the church choir, he would later earn a master's degree in vocational rehabilitation and move to San Francisco to work as a rehabilitation counselor. The burgeoning music scene of the mid-sixties reawakened his passion for singing, and he ended up performing with a jazz trio headed by George Duke. By 1967 Jarreau decided to pursue his love of jazz full time, moving to Los Angeles and performing in clubs. Finally in 1975 he was signed by Warner Bros. Records, soon thereafter releasing the critically acclaimed album We Got By. His biggest commercial breakthrough, however, came with 1981's Breakin' Away; a slickly produced album featuring jazz-tinged R&B and pop, it spawned the hit "We're in This Love Together." Two years later, he would further blend multi-genres with Jarreau. Superbly produced by Jay Graydon and containing tasteful arrangements, the album found the singer in a particularly jovial mood. He was surrounded by some of the finest studio musicians, all combining to produce one of Jarreau's most beloved tracks: "Mornin'."
A breezy, feel-good track, "Mornin'" is anchored by a restrained but sincere vocal performance and simply gorgeous chord changes. Featuring Jeff Pocaro on drums, David Foster on keyboards, and Abraham Laboriel on bass, the track maintains a lighthearted mood throughout. "Mornin' Mr. Radio / Mornin' little Cheerios,"Jarreau croons softly. Listen to his voice change as he lingers on key words in the lines "Scuse me if I sing, my heart has found its wings / Searchin' high and low / And now at last I know." As Jarreau's voice rises in volume and intensity, he uses his vocal abilities as a dramatic device. "My heart will soar," he declares, his voice soaring as well. "Then higher still," he continues, the key also reaching new heights. Then comes the climactic moment of the song: "I know I can, like any man / Reach out my hand, and touch the face of God." Jarreau's supple voice allows the listener to experience the emotion contained in these lyrics, as he is carefully considering each word.
Keyboardist (and co-songwriter) Foster plays subtle but effective keys, executing a solo that perfectly accentuates the song's joyful aura. The chord changes reveal the jazz origins of "Mornin'," particularly during the lyric "I was shakin' but now I am makin' it fine." That passage alone lifts the sprits and impresses with its beautiful but deceptive simplicity. As the song fades out, Jarreau treats fans to a little scatting, leaving fans wanting even more.
Artistry, sincerity, versatility: all of these words accurately describe Jarreau's distinctive sound. The beaming smile he often sported on stage also underscored the joy radiated through his music. His instantly recognizable voice and his sheer love of singing linger through his numerous albums, but both traits united in perfect harmony on "Mornin'." His fans--and the music industry in general--will sorely miss his unique talents.
For more Al Jarreau, revisit a DeepSoul look at another Jarreau track, "Boogie Down."