What the jazz legend said to me in a recording studio changed the course of my life. I don’t chase to be a star, but leaving a legacy as a human being. Shouldn’t we all?
Most of my team wouldn’t know who Al Jarreau is. This includes my business team, and our group of contributors around the world, mostly made up of cool millennials. Heck, you probably don’t know who he is either since most of our readers ARE cool millennials.
For this month’s Founder’s Note, I was asked to write about the controversial travel ban currently plaguing our country’s borders. The piece was in the works as I road tripped through Morocco earlier this month. But I woke up this morning with the news of Al’s passing, and I knew here was an important story I had to publish. Although you may not think a jazz musician has anything to do with traveling. In many ways, he planted the seed for Jetset Times. Maybe inadvertently, but 100% significantly.
As I’ve previously mentioned that during my twenties, I was essentially managing a music label in San Francisco. It was fun, exhilarating, and glamorous. But it was also a political, exhausting, and gruesome way of life. While I was there to learn and to give all that I could, I also made a self promise. “One of my projects needs to win a Grammy,” I secretly told myself. Indeed, #workgoals.
Three years into the experience, I found myself involved in a duets album with George Benson and Al Jarreau. Our label’s collaboration with Concord Records, bringing two jazz legends together on an epic album which would also feature other jazz greats: Herbie Hancock, Jill Scott, and Paul McCartney…just to name a few. During that time, I was frequently flying between San Francisco and Los Angeles with my boss. One of these days, we had a morning full of meetings in SF then took an early evening flight out to LA. By the time we reached Jim Henson studio, I was tired to say the least, and probably looked like it.
In the studio were George, Al, Herbie, and other jazz musicians, including: Marcus Miller, jamming away. We were there for a few hours and I didn’t say a word. It wasn’t my place. In the presence of music’s niche legends, I was in awe. As a gal trained in classical music since five years old and later became a piano teacher in high school, I knew the gift of artistic jewels in that studio. That night, I was witnessing the birth of a future Grammy. I visualized it, as I closed my eyes listening to breezy scats skating along cymbals and drums. Naturally, I panicked.
I still remember this flashback so vividly well that it’s scary. I knew my goals were being met, so what’s next? What now? My life had been so much about my work that I now was faced with what I wanted to accomplish in my personal life – one that I had neglected to nourish for years.
As Al, George and Herbie took breaks from recording, my mind wandered to a dream: fluency in 5 languages before turning 30 years old! There I had it! I saw myself wandering the streets of Tokyo, attempting Japanese. But this was a life without music, without work, without all that I knew in my present. Was it possible?
When I opened my eyes, I was sitting down. Al was right next to me.
“Hi!” I smiled at him, almost wanting to put my head on his shoulders. He had that papa bear vibe, all the time.
“Hello, beautiful.” He said to me, with a smile so infectiously innocent, but evermore comforting. Before I could utter another comment, he put his hand on mine and said, “you’re a star.”
So random, so strange, so….not what I was expecting.
I had never wanted to be a star. I still don’t. I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy. If I die tomorrow, what have I inspired others to do? That, to me, means so much more than how many Instagram followers I have, or how many store items we sell.
The album went on to be nominated with three Grammys. By the time we won two of them, I had already left my job. By the time I attended the Grammy Awards in 2007, I also had bags ready for India the next day. A trip that would ultimately change the course of my life and eventually gave birth to Jetset Times.
I got to see Al one last time, when he performed in Paris. We hugged backstage, and I introduced him to my Parisian friend Mathilde, who was a big fan. I don’t think I ever told Al how much courage he gave me that night in the studio. But in my heart, I’m forever grateful. Without him, I wouldn’t have known what bravery it took to walk away from a life everyone thought was perfectly suited for me and towards a new journey filled with uncertainty yet sheer authentic fulfillment.
CEO/Founder, Jetset Times
Photos: Wendy Hung