Jarreau died about 9 a.m. ET in Los Angeles surrounded by his wife, son and a few friends, according to posts on his Facebook page and Twitter account.
Nicknamed the "Acrobat of Scat" for his innovative vocal stylings, Jarreau was one of the few performers of his day who successfully bridged pop, jazz and R&B. He released more than 20 albums over his storied career, won seven Grammy Awards and remained a tireless performer right up until his death.
He had only retired from touring last week. A February 8 statement on Jarreau's Twitter account announced his retirement from touring after being hospitalized in Los Angeles for exhaustion.
"He is thankful for his 50 years of traveling the world in ministry through music, and for everyone to share this with him -- his faithful audience, the dedicated musicians, and so many others who supported his efforts," it said.
Alwyn Lopez Jarreau was born March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee. His was a musical household.
"My mother was a piano teacher and church organist. My dad was a minister, and a singer," Jarreau said in a 2012 invterview with All About Jazz
. "My brothers were singing quartet music in the living room when I was four and five years old. They were singing ... [scatting]...stuff like that, that's what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like my brothers, singing this jazzy music."
After earning a master's degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa, Jarreau moved to San Francisco in the late 1960s, where after crossing paths with a young pianist -- and future jazz legend himself -- named George Duke, he decided to quit his day job and pursue music full time with the George Duke Trio.
After gaining traction in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Jarreau headed to New York, where, playing alongside guitarist Julio Martinez, he began to reach a wider audience. This led to appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," Merv Griffin and other TV gigs.
His debut album, released in 1976, made an immediate splash in jazz circles. Mainstream pop success followed in 1981 with the album "Breaking Away," which hit the Top 10 on the Billboard charts and spawned his biggest hit, the breezy "We're in This Love Together."
In 1985 Jarreau was part of an all-star lineup of musicians who sang on "We Are the World," the hit song that raised money for famine relief in Africa. His line: "...and so we all must lend a helping hand."
Although Jarreau never replicated his pop success of the early 1980s, many of his subsequent albums topped the contemporary jazz charts and he remained a concert draw around the world.
In 1996 he did a three-month stint on Broadway as the Teen Angel in a production of "Grease." He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001.
Jarreau is survived by his wife, Susan, and son Ryan.