Al Jarreau was the teacher, Kem was his student

The influence was evident when we first heard Kem, and he made sure we knew. The styling of late Al Jarreau was the bedrock on which the Detroit singer-songwriter built.

Jarreau, 76, died Sunday after bouts with exhaustion and other illness. At his peak, the “We’re In This Love Together” singer was unmatched: Rich, almond vocals floating over breezy pop or jazz, the latter of which he never strayed from no matter what genre he tackled. Jarreau was known to scat, improvise and ad-lib in the studio or live, making him a performer known to hold his own.

There hadn’t been a Jarreau-like singer to arrive until Kem, and we never knew what we had been missing when he came. Kem knew this, and made sure to acknowledge Jarreau’s impact frequently throughout his career. Dig up any interview with Kem, and he’ll say that working with Jarreau was always on his wish list.

“One of my biggest musical regrets is that we never got to make music together,” Kem wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night. “Al Jarreau was a Blessing to my life. An inspiration. A muse. A Master. His gift validated mine. You hear me because I heard him. I will miss him dearly.”

Listen to Jarreau’s “Mornin’” and then listen to Kem’s “Find Your Way” and hear the vocal similarities. 

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