Al Jarreau, the affable jazz singing great who reached new audiences by seamlessly merging styles and through television, died Sunday days after announcing his retirement. He was 76.
The seven-time Grammy winner — a rare artist to win in jazz, pop and R&B categories — died in a Los Angeles hospital where he had been treated for fatigue, his manager said.
Jarreau, who grew up in Milwaukee, where he heard his parents play music in church, is best known for the singles “We’re in This Love Together” and “After All.”
Many also heard his voice, even if they did not know it, in the theme to “Moonlighting,” the hit 1980s television series that brought Bruce Willis to prominence.
Jarreau’s other notable appearances included a prominent role on “We Are the World,” the 1985 song by a mega-cast of music A-listers to raise money for famine-ravaged Ethiopia.
In a tribute, his manager Joe Gordon described Jarreau as the ultimate gentleman who never stopped appreciating his listeners or the myriad people who worked for him directly or indirectly.
His second priority was music but “his first priority, far ahead of the other, was healing or comforting anyone in need,” Gordon wrote on Jarreau’s website.
“Whether it was emotional pain, or physical discomfort, or any other cause of suffering, he needed to put our minds at ease and our hearts at rest.
“He needed to see a warm, affirming smile where there had not been one before. Song was just his tool for making that happen.”
While his cause of death was not revealed, Jarreau announced last week that he was finished with touring due to exhaustion.
Jarreau had suffered health issues in recent years and was hospitalized in 2010 for respiratory problems when touring in France.
He died months after being honored at the White House when then president Barack Obama celebrated International Jazz Day.
Gregory Porter, winning the Grammy on Sunday for Best Jazz Vocal Album, called Jarreau “one of the greatest jazz voices that ever lived.”
“Jazz is the music of freedom and Al Jarreau epitomized that,” he said.
– Soaking up influences as child –
Growing up in Milwaukee, Alwyn Lopez Jarreau sang at church and at school. His mother was a piano teacher who played the organ in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, where his father was a preacher and would sing.
But raised in a city with a large German and Eastern European community, Jarreau recalled that he lived near a tavern that played polka and that the radio would play everything from classical to the blues.
“How lucky we were as musicians to have those influences which were really present in our lives. There were no walls then; there are so many walls today,” he told Jazz Times last year.
Jarreau would sing in bars in Milwaukee as a teenager. However, he pursued a career not in music but in counseling, earning a degree at Ripon College in Wisconsin and a master’s degree at the University of Iowa.
Banking on his promise as a musician, he headed to the San Francisco area, where he teamed up with acoustic guitarist Julio Martinez.
After several false starts, Jarreau made his big breakthrough in Los Angeles in 1975, when he was invited to perform at the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood.
His debut album, “We Got By,” came in the same year and proved an international hit.
His family requested that mourners make contributions to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music, which supports young people and recently honored Jarreau with a lifetime achievement award.
Jarreau was married twice and had a son. In a 2012 interview with All About Jazz, Jarreau said he still was in awe that he made music for a living.
“To be given that ability to create something where there was nothing before, empty space, and now there’s a song; that’s an amazing gift,” he said.
“There’s nothing more important than that, except maybe creating a life.”
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