When I saw a photograph of Al Jarreau surrounded by music students at Mays High School, I thought I’d “missed a chance of a lifetime.” And so that day, I thought I'd take the chance of a lifetime. I'd resolved that come hell or high water I was going to see my favorite music artist of all time in concert that night. I didn’t mind working for it either.
Next thing you know, I was en route to Al Jarreau’s sound check in the throws of a part of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s Jazz Roots Concert Series, an arts education series that reaches young people through jazz music experiences from the concert hall to the classroom. As important as the arts and education are, I was on a mission to see the Jazz Roots series in action. Mr. Jarreau would be performing works from his latest album, Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest - Live from Theater aan de Parade, Den Bosch, Netherlands.
I needed a photographer to meet me there – and fast! As though I had physically called him, the minute I walked through the doors of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Seve Adigun of The Savvy Studios was right there.
Students alive with wonder started filing in. They were in for a legendary treat. Amid this group of about 100, were students from Jean Childs Young Middle School. Students and teachers were about to see the inner workings of a live sound check. They were about to witness the necessary ritual of technical logistics so the main stage event that night would superbly woo it’s sold out crowd, a crowd that would include students as a part of its educational reach.
“Why did all the seats in the Cobb Centre have to be red,” I wondered as I came in. My passion for music, and especially for Al Jarreau, was already aflame. I could barely sit still.
I took my seat and there he was a few feet in front of me in the flesh. When the familiar sound of his distinct voice that I love so well came over the microphone, it took everything within me not to cry. I was so filled with gratitude. I was so happy to be in the company of a young generation of musicians and patrons. I was so grateful for the synchronicity that allowed me to be in that moment to witness such wondrous sound.
After the sound check the students got a chance to dialogue with multiple Grammy award-winning jazz legend. The students were asked if they were familiar with the big in front of them. A little less than half of the students had heard of him. By the time they left, everyone in the room, including Mr. Jarreau’s manager, knew more about Mr. Jarreau’s music than when we’d all arrived.
By show of hands the students were asked how many of them were pianists, vocalists, bassists, etc. Randomly, a microphone was put before a couple of unsuspecting student vocalists and each one had a turn to sing the song of their choice on stage. Mr. Jarreau sang along with their song.
When a 12-year old student came to the stage, she began to play Adele’s “Someone Like You” on the piano. Her beautifully played song was perfectly complemented by the impromptu angelic voices of her young music schoolmates from their seats.
The joyful spirit we know as Al Jarreau began to sing when he was 3. His mother played piano for her church. Although he didn’t lean the way of religious songs, his messages are no less sacred as a result of the talents his mother gave to the church.
Next, the students were about to be off into yet another part of their learning experience within the Cobb Centre. I thought I had my story. I thought the moment was done. Except for one thing: That question I’d always had about the song, “Alonzo.” I approached the stage where he and most of his musicians had left. I got the attention of a very personable “Joe” who turned out to be Mr. Jarreau’s manager. When I asked my question, Joe didn’t know the answer. He said “Why don’t you ask Al yourself.”
In an instant, Mr. Jarreau re-appeared and there I was square in front of him, eye to eye. Before I knew it the words “I love you” had spilled from my mouth. I have always loved his music; His older, classic songs are the ones I love best. But what I meant had added meaning. I love his Light. The one you see when he throws his arms way up in the air with joy. The light of his humor that causes him to laugh and spawns laughter. The light the moves to help get sound out. The light in his lyrics that speak of Agape love.
After a few minutes of talking about the song, “Alonzo,” he began to sing it right before me ...
And when I think of Alonzo -
He was king around the bay
He'd come sporting and flashing
Hearts would drift away
Could be - he had a dream -
Came upon the scene where the
Lamb and lion play
How could he start to school her
Or rule her with feet of sand and clay
Alonzo declared that he must
Reach to heaven - for heaven …
The photographer, who happens to also be a Yoruba priest, stood witness. In his long dreadlocks, rich dark skin, and striking white clothing, as the voices of children trailed off, he captured a special moment in infinity.
I was happy and grateful, like a church that was saying "Amen."