Bobby McFerrin

Date 27 July 2007 Venue Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts Reviewer John Jane

Many people know Bobby McFerrin best from his one and only AM radio hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” While he no longer performs the song in concert he still lives by its cheerful credo. So, when he emerged on stage, dressed casually in blue jeans and a grey T-shirt, he appeared unfazed by the half-hour delay caused by the last-minute change of venue caused by the civic strike and immediately conveyed his easy-going charm to the audience.

McFerrin is reknowned for a vocal range of four octaves as well as his unique ability to use his voice to create vocal percussion, like his replication of bass and drums achieved by simultaneously singing and tapping on his chest with open fingers.

His opening tune, delivered from a sitting position was completely improvised and immediately followed with the Judy Garland classic, “Smile” – barely recognizable sung without words in a Latin fusion style.

McFerrin, a consummate entertainer, is fond of involving everyone in his music. He manages to achieve exuberant audience response with subtle gestures. With Dale Hawkins’s rockabilly hit “Susie Q” he got wide audience participation by merely waving his hands.

As a practicing Christian, he typically includes at least one piece of sacred music from his extensive repertoire, and this time he chose a Bach Prelude combined with Gounod’s Ave Maria. He enlisted the audience to sing the Ave Maria while he vocalized the Prelude. He seemed genuinely elated when it worked so well.

Later in the show McFerrin invited members of the audience to join him on stage for a circle song. He asked for twelve volunteers; not surprisingly around forty responded to the opportunity of singing with the maestro. The wordless song required circular integration of soloist and chorus with McFerrin providing rhythmic repetitions in short musical patterns. There is no disputing the native New Yorker’s vocal dexterity, but what was even more awe-inspiring was the talent pool in a typical Vancouver Festival audience.

Was it the singer’s idiosyncratic sense of humour which gave the Vancouver audience an opportunity to poke fun at themselves? Intentional or not – in a quirky rendition of the “Beverly Hillbillies TV Theme” an appreciable section joined in on the line: “Out of the ground, came bubbling crude” – I just hope there wasn’t anyone at the Centre from the Inlet Drive neighbourhood in North Burnaby.

McFerrin offered what was arguably the finest musical treat of the evening with a free funk medley from The Wizard of Oz that included “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” - ad-libbing the songs lyrics on the run, and switching effortlessly from falsetto to bass and back to falsetto.

Bobby McFerrin is a vocal virtuoso and a global musician, embracing genres as diverse as jazz, blues, gospel, classical, world music, and country 'n western.

© 2007 John Jane