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OMG—Al Jarreau Has Left Us: Leaving a Treasure-house of Beauty Behind

Friday, 17 February 2017 / Published in Articles / 2,204 views

By Raga Devi Dasi

Decades ago I met the music of Al Jarreau & for me it was a magical meet-ing of pure intrigue & inspiration. I immediately told my 5 best friends about him coz it was obvious to me that hardly anyone, even performer or musician, was ab-le to attain the height & profundity of Jarreau’s masterful genius, which was sim-ply unparalleled. 7 Grammies tell that story better than I ever can, & his rhythm-mic scatting that moved across the globe told even more. See, all who knew him know that Jarreau used his voice super-percussively, making sounds & melodies that were as hauntingly attractive as complicated string or classical instruments.

But the lyrics, words and themes Al invented were also terrifically advan-ced and ethereal—always hinting at his transcendental status & origin. Just like Narottama das Thakur often did, Al’s song Alonzo for instance refers to himself & describes his clear and desperate search for God or heaven. Though I don’t claim to know every nuance of its meaning, I do know that after alluding to a land where lambs & lions play, the lyric’s chorus goes: Alonzo declared that he must reach to heaven forever, Alonzo declared that he must reach to heaven forever

But let’s start in an easier place, where pop lyrics of Al’s charmed millions of hearts by totally personifying the sattva guna mode goodness. His hit: We’re In this Love Together, is a song I sang for my guru Bhakti Tirtha Swami & all of the assembled devotees in Gita Nagari after rewriting a few of its words; I call it:

WE’RE ON THIS PATH TOGETHER

A bhakti rewrite by Raga dd, to be sung to AJ’s We’re In This Love Together!

It’s like diamond rings and precious things

And we never want to lose it

It’s like our favorite song that we love to sing

Every time we hear the music

We’re on this path together

We got the kind that lasts forever

We’re on this path together

Until our bhakti lata beige reaches Krsna’s lotus feet

It’s like Radharani’s attitude

It captures Krishna’s favor

It’s like Gopal playing on His flute

The rasa Brijvasis savor

We’re on this path together

We got the kind that lasts forever

We’re on this path together

Until our bhakti lata beige goes to Krsna’s lotus feet

Actually, this is 1 of at least two dozen major pop songs I decided to Krsnize & will soon professionally record. See like most of Al’s tunes, this one was just too sweet to shake off. Having played it on my turntable & seen him perform it live many times, it became a huge part of me, etched into my very cells. In fact I wanted my re-write to resemble it so completely, I hardly changed 1 word, which leads to my next point.

What planet was this guy from or what mind altering drug did he take to create music of this caliber? We’ve all wondered this, while we also wonder how this Milwaukeean got such an ecstatic burst of divine energy? The 6th chapter of Bhagavad-gita As It Is gives a big hint to this & as a tribe member of Jarreau’s, I’ll venture to guess a lot of this was 2-fold. Jarreau in deed had thorough honesty—that thing the Srimad Bhagavatam reminds us we must all aspire for. Jarreau also had strong yogic tendencies, another thing that gives rise to personas like his.

Actually, Alwin , later Al & his whole family loved & searched after God without apology. But it seems that his parents also had love and trust for him & so they allowed him the freedom to explore & experience many other things—like even the nescience he sometimes wrote about very candidly. These lower mode incidents came across in songs like You Don’t See Me, Susan’s Song and Letter Perfect– all of which talk about blindness, vision, sightedness and lack thereof).

I was well under 30 when I first encountered this pop genius’s music—it was my first job, where I came across a news review of his green album: We Got By. (If you haven’t had a good cry lately & need one, pull We Got By & Susan’s Song up on You Tube, but be forewarned, the most dry-eyed person will weep buckets.) Anyway, I didn’t know it at the time, but Jarreau’s music would soon inspire me to go hear many of his concerts & also meet him in person. Then, a few years later when I met Krsna, bhakti and Srila Prabhupada, the deal was sealed. I decided to stay close but not too close to thought-provoking, mode of goodness music like his. In fact, The Director of Wanderers had me travel 3,000 miles to meet Al in person & give him several of BT Swami’s world-famous, super popular books. Though I’m surely not the doer, through me Jarreau received the first four of my gurudeva’s Spiritual Warrior books, a copy of his Leadership for An Age of Higher Consciousness & two smaller Srila Prabhupada books as well.

Two photos of our meetings were taken, but only this one still exists. The second was over-exposed it seems, but the show it was taken at was an incredible one & I couldn’t have been happier because that night’s all-star show at St. Louis’ Fox Theater featured not only Al, but also artists Roberta Flack & jazz pianist Joe Sample too. Although I didn’t get to meet the others that night, at the show’s end, a very honest seeming security guard promised to get Joe & Roberta copies of the small Prabhupada books I had carried to distribute. Of course, my favorite part of the show was the short after-concert dialogue I had with Jarreau. It was similar to the one we had in L.A.’s Greek Theater 4 or 5 years before that. At both of these he was pleasant, friendly and even told me I looked a lot like his sister.

So as James Brown used to say, I’ll hit it and quit right now with just a few more demographics. Jarreau, born Alwin Jarreau was a Minister’s son who began singing on stage at age 4. He, his father and mother all sang at the 7 Day Adven-tist church they attended, & his mother was the church organist. When he grew up he pursued a psychology Masters but music stuck with him, so he quit that to tour with a group called Indigo that was headed by music producer George Duke.

There’s no doubt in my mind that in addition to his vocal prowess, it was the tenderness of Jarreau’s original lyrics that attracted his huge, international following. I mean who of us can’t relate to love? Even if worldly love is a little tainted by other motives, it still has a lot of umph. Besides, when expressions of love this robust arouse ecstatic symptoms where you have to laugh, dance or cry, you know that you’ve hit on something of very divine origin.

In conclusion, we devotees try to avoid speculation, still I can’t help but guess that maybe the tender-heartedness of his music came largely from his being a lifelong vegetarian who led a practicing 7 Day Adventist’s life. The first of Al’s 7 Grammies was received in Germany, but so successful was he that another of his Grammies took 3 simultaneous awards—1 for best pop, best jazz & best R & B.

Another reason I became love-struck with Al soon after hearing him is, like my whole family, Jarreau had a special love for the Brazilian sambas of Stan Getz, Joah & Austrid Gilberto. In fact, another of his tender lyrics comes from his song: Burst in With the Dawn: It starts: “There is such a lonely searching that’s been going on, sweet tomorrow morning, burst in with the dawn.” Songs like this are why Al did such an amazing job of bringing together all human hearts from every inch of the globe. Also recorded in Europe is his double live album Look to the Rainbow that has classics like Take Five. In fact, if you ask me, Jarreau’s acclaim may have extended beyond all of our hemispheres to include all the three worlds.

I beg the devotees to collectively pray that Lord Krishna personally receives this tender-hearted soul, who died on the battlefield of sheer exhaustion & pneumonia at the age of 76. May the Lord also give this great musician maximum benefit for all the simply wonderful inspiration he gave us. Al Jarreau Ki Jaya!

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One Response to “OMG—Al Jarreau Has Left Us: Leaving a Treasure-house of Beauty Behind”

  1. Mohana Mohini dd says :

    Hare Krsna. You wrote:

    “Though I’m surely not the doer, through me Jarreau received the first four of my gurudeva’s Spiritual Warrior books, a copy of his Leadership for An Age of Higher Consciousness & two smaller Srila Prabhupada books as well.”

    I was disappointed when I read this, it as if you added Prabhupada’s books as an after thought instead of the main course. Prabhupada’s books make devotees.

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