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Friday, 12 October 2012

Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin. Wow, where to even start with this guy? Bobby McFerrin is a virtuoso vocalist. He’s a surprising, exciting, joyous person who’s brimming with music, and all of that shows in everything he does.

I used to know him only as the guy who sings ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ and I heard something about him doing vocal improvisations, but I never really paid much attention to him. Then one day, a friend posted a link on facebook of Bobby McFerrin singing something from Bach. I watched the video on youtube and after that I watched another related video and another after that. Before I knew it, I spent a few hours listening to his performances. I was mesmerised. For about a week I was always talking about him (yeah, I get excited about music), saying “Have you heard this guy sing? Have you heard the stuff he does with his voice? Insane!” but it wasn’t until September this year that I really started listening and thinking about his music. I went to see a Bobby McFerrin and Wynton Marsalis with Jazz at Lincoln Centre concert. It was absolutely amazing and inspiring and it made me aware of more things about him. After the concert, I started reading about him, watching interviews and listening to his music more closely. I’ve been wanting to write about him for a while, but the concert was the final push.

Born in 1950 in New York, he started his musical career as a pianist. He soon realized he was drawn to singing and so it happened. He started singing. For the first two years he deliberately stopped listening to other singers, because he wanted to find a voice of his own and he was aware of how easily anyone can be influenced by others. So he began with simply singing alone in his room with just his tape recorder with him. He carefully examined what he sounded like, all the things he could produce with his voice and tried to perfect it. It took him a long time before he sang in front of an audience because he was quite shy and afraid of his own voice.
Now, he says, he’s intrigued with how he can convey emotions with just sounds. While he likes songs with lyrics and wishes he could express himself with words like some people can, he expresses himself with sounds and that have a much greater meaning to him. He explains, if he says ‘I love you’ it means the same to everyone, but if he sings some notes, a melody, he expresses something, and whoever is listening will understand it differently because everyone will bring their own story to what they’re hearing.
I personally find all of this inspiring and I think it’s all evident in his music - I could not think of a single musician he’s similar to. He’s as unique as it gets.

His second album ‘The Voice’ was a milestone in jazz history as it was the first jazz album recorded solely with a single person’s voice without any accompaniment. After that, his rich musical career ranged from jazz, spiritual, African, pop and even to classical (who on earth sings Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano or cello concertos) and on his way he collaborated with many world renowned musicians. It’s rare for a musician of any kind to be doing such a wide variety of genres and doing them so well, but to be doing them with just his voice?! That’s unheard of. On top of all that he’s also a critically acclaimed conductor.

If you’ve never listened to Bobby McFerrin and you want to listen to something extraordinary, I suggest you give ‘The Voice’ a try. It’s a nice introduction to the amazing musical world of Bobby McFerrin. Mind you, it really is just an introduction, because there is just so much more to him than one album. That’s also one thing I find interesting about him; usually with musicians or even artists in general, you can point to one or two works, that are representative. I can’t imagine doing that with McFerrin. He’s elusive in that manner and he can’t be put in just one category.

Ok, enough talking from my part, I think it’s time for the songs to do some explaining of their own. I’ll post only a few, but if you start listening to him some more, you’ll realize what I mean about him being eclectic.

The first song is from the album ‘The Voice’ and is a cover of a famous Beatles song ‘Blackbird’. Listening to the song, it’s sometimes hard to believe that there are no instruments, no percussion and just one person involved. And that’s the magic of McFerrin - he’s somehow able to fill the whole song, so you never feel like there’s anything missing.
You can find some more songs from the album on youtube, but only a few so I would recommend getting the whole album. I feel it’s something everyone should listen to at least once in their life, because it demonstrates perfectly how much can be done with just a voice. Plus, the music is amazing.

With the next song, I wanted to show his versatility. Here’s just one song, because if I tried to provide an example of all the different things he did, you would spend a lot of time in front of your computer. A lot.
It’s a Bach number, done with the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Also an album worth listening to.

And for the end, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. Not because I got a sudden urge to be cheesy, but because everyone knows it, and I think not a lot of people realize what’s actually going on in the song. It’s hard to notice, since Bobby McFerrin does everything so naturally.
Before you listen to the song, try to guess how many instruments are used in the song? Just make a wild guess. Now listen carefully and count the instruments and how many different people are singing (hint: there is overdubbing involved).

The first time I realized what you just realized (if you listened to the song), I was left speechless. Bobby McFerrin is truly amazing.


  1. Živjo Žan:)

    Navdušujem se nad tvojo jazz-blues ... navdušenostjo. Te razumem:D Zanimive misli, informacije, hvala:)

    Bobby je res legenda, črpa iz vesoljnega vira in vedno znova preseneti, vsak zvok te obrne. Sploh pa improvizacija, poslušaš z odprtimi usti.

    Meni zelo ljuba je tale : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eH8jS0DyO0 :)

    Avtor Peter Amalietti tudi ljubi jazz glasbo in ima kar nekaj knjig na to temi, so impresionantne (npr. Mojstri ob kaminu).

    Keep the jazz spirit on fire ;)

    1. Živjo

      Hvala za komentar. Mi zelo veliko pomeni, ko je nekomu všeč kaj pišem. In me veseli, da deliš navdušenje :)

      Bobby pa... Ni kej za rečt. Ti pobere besede :) Kot sem že napisal, slišat v živo ga je bilo res fenomenalno in upam da ga bom še kdaj.

      Tole sem pa že videl ja. Haha, dober je :)

      Prvič slišim za tegale Petra, ampak si bom prebral, da se prepričam na lastne oči. Hvala

      Uglavnem, še enkrat hvala za komentar in lepe besede, me pa zanima, če bi lahko izvedel kdo je ta skrivnostni anonymous? :) Radovednost me bo ubila hehe


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