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Influential jazz artist Al Jarreau, singer of 'We're in This Love Together,' dead at 76

Al Jarreau, the legendary jazz artist and seven-time Grammy winner, has died. He was 76.

The singer died about 6 a.m. Sunday at a Los Angeles hospital surrounded by family and friends, his agent said. The cause of death was not immediately known, but news of his passing comes two days after he announced his retirement from touring and was admitted to the hospital for exhaustion.

Dubbed the “Acrobat of Scat” for his vocal delivery and admired by fans for his imaginative and improvisational qualities, Jarreau had a career that spanned five decades and 20 albums. His biggest single was "We're in This Love Together" from 1981. He also sang the theme song for TV's "Moonlighting." 

He is the only Grammy vocalist to win in the jazz, pop and R&B categories. 

"All through his career, he was someone who was daring,” said jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, who collaborated with Jarreau on an album celebrating musician George Duke. “He was totally original. Nobody before him sang like that. He was a courageous singer because he had no problem making something new every single night he was on stage. It was extraordinary to watch.”

A statement on Jarreau’s website read: "His 2nd priority in life was music. There was no 3rd. His 1st priority, far ahead of the other, was healing or comforting anyone in need.”

He was born Alwin Lopez-Jarreau in Milwaukee in 1940. His father was a minister, and his mother was a piano teacher. Jarreau began singing in the church choir at age 4 and later counted jazz scat artist Jon Hendricks and ballad singer Johnny Mathis among his greatest influences.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1960 from Wisconsin’s Ripon College, where he performed on weekends with a group called the Indigos. He went on to the University of Iowa, earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and later moved to San Francisco to begin a brief career as a social worker.

But his call to singing persisted, and he realized that rehabilitation counseling would not be his life’s work.

"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," Jarreau told The Times in 1991.

By the late ’60s, Jarreau relocated to Los Angeles and began to sing in clubs such as the Troubadour and the Bitter West End.

He released his first album, “We Got By,” in 1975 at the age of 35. Within two years, he won his first Grammy. He began attracting a wider following with his 1981 album, “Breaking Away,” which included the Top 20 hit “We’re in This Love Together.”  The album won Grammy Awards in the jazz and pop vocal categories.

Not one to fit into a mold, Jarreau dabbled with rock and reggae and recorded the theme song for the TV series “Moonlighting” as the ’80s carried on. His 1992 album, “Heaven and Earth,” won a Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, giving the artist Grammys in three categories.

Despite his many TV appearances and touring schedule, Jarreau often lamented the recording business.

"I'm this strange kind of fusion of jazz, pop and R&B," Jarreau told The Times in 1991. "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."

Jarreau stretched his talents in other ways, performing with symphony orchestras and acting on Broadway in 1996 in the role of Teen Angel in “Grease.” 

He eventually came full-circle in 2004 and recorded a straight-ahead jazz album, “Accentuate the Positive.”

He picked up two more Grammys in 2007 for a recording made with guitarist George Benson, “Givin’ It Up.”  He remained an active performer until his death, playing about 50 concerts last year.

"He used to refer to himself as an old geezer,” Reeves said. “But the music kept him young."

A private service will be held for immediate family. No public service is planned at this time, Jarreau’s website said.

Jarreau is survived by his wife, Susan, and son, Ryan. The family requested that contributions be made to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music, a scholarship fund that Jarreau established.

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

Twitter: @villarrealy


UPDATES:

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional comments from Dianne Reeves.

12:50 p.m.: This article was updated to include more biographical information and details from the artists’ representatives. 

This article was originally published at 11:05 a.m.

This article incorrectly states that Jarreau performed at the Bitter West End. The name of the West Hollywood club was Bitter End West.
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