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Bobby McFerrin: Reinvigorated Spirtuals And Americana

Watch the virtuosic vocalist perform "Joshua" in the Soundcheck studio.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Bobby McFerrin performs in the Soundcheck studio. Bobby McFerrin performs in the Soundcheck studio. (Michael Katzif / WNYC)

Best known for his solo performances, vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin returns to his musical roots in two ways for his latest album, Spirityouall. The record features an all-star jazz ensemble including Grammy Award-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding. But McFerrin also interprets -- in his own endlessly joyous style -- the Americana songs he grew up with. While well-known tunes like "Swing Low" and "Whole World" could easily feel stale, through McFerrin's ever-inventive musical prism, these songs feel reinvigorated and fresh.

     Set List:

    • “Every Time”
    • “Fix Me Jesus”
    • “Joshua”


    Bobby McFerrin, on the heading in a different musical direction on spirityouall:

    I wanted to put a band together that was acoustically based, and I wanted to do something that had a jazzy, folksy, bluegrassy kind of flavor to it. We mix it up a bit. We go south a few times on stage. We play around with pieces. We extend them, we elaborate on them, we shorten them, we quicken them, we change the pace, we change the key. It’s like a live experiment.

    On his father, Robert McFerrin, Sr., a groundbreaking musician:

    To this day, he has the best baritone voice of anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. He was the first African American musician to sign a contract with the Metropolitan Opera, in 1955, I believe. And he was a great teacher. I learned a lot just observing him with students…. He didn’t put up with any nonsense. If you came in completely unprepared, he just booted you out the door. He was very strict, strong, stern, yet kind. He had the perfect balance for a teacher.

    On occasionally teaching improvisation himself at the Omega Institute:

    Improv for me is simply motion. You start something and you just keep going. You might set a timer for a minute, five minutes, ten minutes, whatever. But you start and you keep going. That’s the basis of improv for me. Harmony and theory and all that stuff, that comes later. The first part is just getting enough courage to forward ho — start, and don’t stop. I teach that. 

    Watch Bobby McFerrin's performance at the World Science Festival in 2009, hosted by Soundcheck's own John Schaefer.


    For more photos, visit Soundcheck's Tumblr page.

    Bobby McFerrin plays Central Park SummerStage on August 20.


    Bobby McFerrin

    Comments [6]

    iamJohnBarker from London

    Amazing recording.... Plus he answered my question which made it even better for me! MORE PLEASE!

    May. 31 2013 03:50 PM
    Kathy Dee from PORTLAND OR

    THANKS so much for the wonderful show with Bobby McFerrin...Awesome. I'm in Portland Or and has a lovely listen. And thanks for posting on FB ...that's where I clicked in from. You does Bobby

    May. 31 2013 02:30 PM
    sandra from argentina

    I´m happy to hear that my comment has been received by this talented Bobby! love you
    I had the pleasure to sing with you back 1980´s in Miami
    It was a great experience!!!!

    May. 31 2013 02:30 PM
    Jay Banta from Brandon, Vt.


    Represents a truly unique soul in the music world. I am totally amazed at how he is able to use his voice and his entire body as an instrument.

    He is going to be in Burlington Vt. tonight and the only tickets left were way too much money. Our son is getting married out in the midwest next week and we just couldn't afford to do both.

    What a bummer about having to miss this gig.....probably as close as we'll ever be to where he is performing.

    Bobby, have a wonderful time in Burlington Vt. tonight.


    May. 31 2013 02:20 PM
    sandra from argentina

    I love this beautifull person! it´s wonderfull to hear you from Argentina now!!!!

    May. 31 2013 02:16 PM
    Jair Rodriquez from Puerto Rico

    When visiting Puerto Rico, at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico is the place of work to master Canto, await your visit.

    May. 31 2013 02:15 PM

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