Al Jarreau Still Doesn’t Fit the Mold : Singer: ‘I’m this strange kind of fusion of jazz, pop and R&B;,’ he says. He appears tonight and Saturday in Anaheim.


In the mid-1960s, when singer Al Jarreau was a rehabilitation counselor for the state of California, before he had embarked on a musical career full time, he used to think of himself as a “square peg in a round hole.”

“I was feeling bad about my performance as a counselor--I had a huge caseload, and it was overwhelming--and it made me think about what my real career should be,” said Jarreau, who has a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Iowa and who didn’t choose music as his occupation until the late ‘60s.

In a way, the artist with the gleaming tenor voice and the superb rhythmic feel--who appears tonight and Saturday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim--is still something of a square peg.

“I’m this strange kind of fusion of jazz, pop and R&B;,” the Milwaukee native said. “Since the beginning of my recording career in 1975, I have had a little difficulty because the pop stations think I’m a jazzer who doesn’t have a feeling for pop, so it’s hard to get my records played. Similarly, black urban radio doesn’t understand that with my R&B; roots, I am more than a jazz singer. So I get pigeonholed.”


Still, Jarreau--whose renditions of such tunes as Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” often include uproarious scat singing, a style that often defines a jazz singer--really isn’t complaining.

His 11 albums each have sold about 300,000 copies, and Jarreau expects his most recent, 1988’s “Heart’s Horizon,” to be certified gold, indicating sales of more than 500,000 units.

But he’d like to reach a wider audience.

Jarreau, 51, had hoped “Heart’s Horizon,” an album that was two years in the making, would do the trick.


“With the amount of work that went into the production and what I see in that music, I thought it was the right stuff to go platinum,” or sell a million copies, he said in a recent phone interview from the Encino home he shares with his wife, Susan, and their son, Ryan.

Jarreau admits he’s disappointed about the sales figures but says that in the end, huge sales aren’t really that important.

“I’m saved every day by the intrinsic value of the work I do, which I truly enjoy,” said the four-time Grammy Award winner: two for Best Jazz Vocalist (1977, 1979) and one each for Best Male Pop Vocal and Best Make Jazz Vocal, both for 1981’s “Breakin’ Away,” which produced his Top 20 pop hit, “We’re in This Love Together.”

“The work must be its own reward,” he said. “I got that early on. And I’m blessed by meeting my own standards of excellence.”


Jarreau is currently at work on a new project, which is due next year and is being produced by Narada Michael Walden. He thinks this album will re-establish his roots as a black-based singer with a strong feeling for R&B; material.

The vocalist sees Walden--who has produced some big hits for Whitney Houston and who produced and co-wrote some tunes on Tevin Campbell’s “T.E.V.I.N.” album--as a man who might help him capture the ears of new listeners.

“I asked Narada to take a hard look at me and write the kind of stuff that I can do, and which is also his strongest suit, and that’s R&B;,” Jarreau said. “My feeling from what we’ve got in the can is that he’s hit it dead center.”

A single from the album sessions, which began nine months ago, is due in January.


Thinking back, Jarreau said he can’t remember a time when he didn’t sing. “It’s like I came out of the chute singing,” he said with a little laugh. “I did a benefit for my church at age 4" and sang in high school and college, he said.

During those years, he often sat in with pianist Les Czimber at a club in Milwaukee. In 1965, Jarreau and Czimber, a Hungarian refugee who is now an Orange County resident, moved to the Bay Area. Soon thereafter, Jarreau made his career change and became a full-time musician.

Was it the right choice?

“I’m doing what I do best, and still getting a turn at bat,” Jarreau said. “If that can continue and I stay healthy, I see myself doing the same thing years from now.”


Al Jarreau and Lalah Hathaway sing tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Celebrity Theatre, 201 E. Broadway, Anaheim. Tickets: $35.50. Information: (714) 999-9536.