Al Jarreau, 7-time Grammy winning jazz singer, dies at 76

al jarreau obituary
Al Jarreau as photographed 2010. The Grammy Award-winning singer died Feb. 12, 2017, at 76 years old.

Al Jarreau, a Grammy Award-winning singer whose versatile tenor voice and vibrant stage style blurred the lines between jazz, soul and pop music, died Feb. 12 at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 76.

His publicist, Joe Gordon, announced the death, saying the singer had been treated for exhaustion. The cause was not immediately known.

Jarreau was loosely classified as a jazz singer, but his eclectic style was entirely his own, polished through years of obscure apprenticeship in lonely nightclubs. He did not release his first album until 1975, when he was 35, but within two years he had won the first of his seven Grammy Awards and had begun to attract a wide following.

Veteran jazz vocalist Al Jarreau was a sly, winking presence on the second Saturday of 2014 New Orleans Jazz Fest.

He was dubbed the “Acrobat of Scat” for the way he adopted the fast, wordless syllables of bebop jazz musicians, but he didn’t limit himself to the musical backdrop of an earlier generation. His approach emphasized the percussion-heavy and electronically amplified sound of rhythm-and-blues and funk music, and he had a particular gift for mimicking almost any kind of musical instrument or sound.

“Jarreau imitates the electronic and percussive hardware of the 1970s,” critic Robert Palmer wrote in Rolling Stone in 1979. “But he does more than that. He stands there and makes it all sound natural, singing so sweetly and unaffectedly you’d think he just happened on this remarkable vocal vocabulary.”

After winning awards and plaudits as a jazz singer, Jarreau found a wider audience with his 1981 album “Breakin’ Away,” which sold more than 1 million copies and included a Top 20 hit, “We’re in This Love Together.” The album won Grammy Awards in the jazz and pop vocal categories, propelling Jarreau to widespread stardom.

He was soon appearing on television, touring with a 10-piece band and taking the stage with dramatic lighting and choreographed dance moves. He seemed poised for a popular breakthrough that never quite arrived. Despite his Grammy Awards and growing acclaim, Jarreau groused that Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Al Green sold more records, even though they – in the view of many, including Jarreau himself – couldn’t match his vocal chops.