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Al Jarreau: Feelin’ Pretty Good

Singer set for performances at Wolf Trap and other venues in U.S. and Japan

George Duke at Freihofer Jazz Festival
George Duke and Al Jarreau at Freihofer Jazz Festival at Saratoga Springs (photo: Ben Johnson)
Al Jarreau performing at 2010 West Oak Lane Jazz Festival in Philadelphia
Al Jarreau performing at 2010 West Oak Lane Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, Pa.

Sometimes a story is just too good, or even too bad, to be true. Recently, many jazz fans and insiders were shocked to read reports from Europe that singer Al Jarreau had collapsed on stage and was in critical condition in a hospital in France. To paraphrase Twain, rumors of his demise were slightly exaggerated. “Well, it seemed like a juicy story to folks,” Jarreau said, speaking by phone from his home in California. Much of the initial coverage emanated from a French newspaper and was picked up by Reuters and then virally by other outlets (including JT) and words like “collapsed” and “critical condition” virtually jumped out of the articles. “Right, it was in fact neither of those,” Jarreau explained. “I heard that Tom Joyner had the story of me falling off the stage,” added the singer, laughing in that highly musical way of his. I reminded Jarreau of Sonny Rollins’ famous mistimed jump off a stage that landed him with a broken leg (as documented in Bob Mugge’s film Saxophone Colossus). “You know, I’ve never felt the need to jump off of any stage,” he responded, chuckling.

Jarreau was in the midst of a European tour, when he found himself short of breath on the day of a performance in the Marseille area of France. He decided to seek medical attention at a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with the relatively common and treatable condition of heart arrhythmia (ironic given his own impeccable sense of time). He was hospitalized for a few days and had to cancel a few shows, which he found perhaps most upsetting of all. “I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t feel right.’ I never cancel a show but I was short of breath and I thought I should err on the side of caution and get myself checked out.” Certainly high altitude didn’t help matters. “Right, I need to be careful about doing that. While I was there [at the hospital], I got a new Ten Commandments written just for me, from the doctors. A lot of ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ I need to be more conscious of salt intake and other healthy heart things.” All in all, he said he’s feeling good now, if a little humbled. “I’m doing pretty okay here. I did decide to go in and get myself checked out. I think that was important. There were some things that I didn’t know were going on with me.”

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Originally Published