Jazz: A truly dynamic duo

Singer Bobby McFerrin and jazz pianist Chick Corea include Israel on their Duet Tour 2015.

Jazz pianist Chick Corea (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jazz pianist Chick Corea
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In addition to his amazingly eclectic skills and talent, Bobby McFerrin comes across as a guteh neshomoh . The man simply exudes positive vibes. That will surely come across in buckets when the 65-year-old American vocalist and conductor arrives here for four shows, along with stellar jazz pianist Chick Corea, between July 22 and 24 for the Israeli leg of the twosome’s Duet Tour 2015.
McFerrin is probably best known for his iconic 1988 happy-go-lucky hit pop number “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but there is so much more to the man. He is a 10-time Grammy winner – one was for the aforementioned pop song – and, in addition to employing a dazzling array of vocal techniques and using his body as a percussion instrument, McFerrin has had his fair share of success as a conductor. Corea is one of the true stars of the jazz world who has been at the top of the heap for more than 40 years. It is a definitively high-profile pairing that should provide quality entertainment to thousands of adoring fans here, both from the jazz world and from the pop end of the music market.
As performers of all kinds of stripes know only too well, having such a gargantuan hit like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” can do wonders for getting you out there, but it also means the artist can get typecast. McFerrin has clearly moved on to new musical terrain over the past quarter of the century and says he is not concerned about the danger of being forever associated with that hit. “I’m grateful for everything that opened up because of that song,” says the dreadlocked star. “That song is just one example of what I do every day: playing around with my voice, experimenting with everything my instrument can do, looking for the humor in things, following where the music leads me.”
McFerrin was a late starter in the singing business, releasing his debut self-titled album in 1982, when he was already 32 years old, and that was after spending six years working on his musical style and technique. For much of that time he eschewed the work of fellow singers in an attempt to obviate copycat traps. Instead, he listened to the work of top jazz instrumentalists such as pianist Keith Jarrett and was drawn to Jarrett’s ability to produce off-the-cuff departures in mid-keyboard flight.
The free-flowing grounding eventually paid dividends, and today McFerrin is one of the most versatile artists around. He feels that his current partner in musical endeavor is just as big a risk taker. That, naturally, leads to an impromptu approach to the Duet Tour 2015 mindset. “We’re like musical explorers. We never know what we’re going to find,” says the singer. “The music unfolds before our eyes and ears.”
Judging by McFerrin’s responses, it seems the singer does not have too much of a problem conveying his ideas verbally. On stage, however, he is more than a dab hand at non- textual renditions, including scatting. He says that sticking to a meandering and undulating non-verbal melody line offers all sorts of possibilities for both the performer and the audience. “I feel sometimes, like when I sing a wordless line, it has infinite meanings. Whatever it means to me is one thing, and each listener can hear it in a way that’s meaningful for them. But I like singing words, too; they also have infinite meaning,” he says.
McFerrin’s almost telepathic bond with Corea is helped, no doubt, by the fact that the singer has experience in ivory tickling. He says being familiar with the piano also helped him to consider expansive sonic possibilities. The latter is amply reflected in a vocal span that spreads across close to an incredible four octaves. “My ear guides my voice,” he states. “I think because I was a pianist, I heard a big range of notes, and then I tried to sing what I heard. When I first realized I was a singer I was 27, and I was an experienced musician already. I could hear the sounds I wanted to make in my head. But it took a long time for me to learn to make them with my voice. I just sang. That’s how I still practice; I just keep singing.”
McFerrin has also made a name for himself for his percussive vocal output and is considered by many to be a pioneer of the beatbox discipline. “I’m flattered that beatboxers think of me as one of the ancestors, somebody who helped them imagine what was possible,” he says, although noting that he prefers a more melodic line of attack. “What I do, I’d say I do some vocal percussion, not beatboxing. It’s all vocal music. For my own taste, I like to hear some melody and harmony along with the rhythm. But I do really respect the way that community encourages each other to make music.”
Corea and McFerrin have been simpatico for more than three decades, and the singer says they found a common language from the word go. “We met in the early 1980s. Of course, I already knew his work. Right from the beginning it was like a homecoming. Sometimes people think we work so well together because of all the years of collaboration. It’s not true. It’s always been like this. I just love to play with him. We’ve talked a little about recording again, but there aren’t firm plans yet,” he says.
Corea goes along with his stage partner’s appreciation of their sympathetic synergy. “With Bobby it’s always been no strain and easy. Our duet has been based on playfulness and spontaneity since the beginning. I remember Bobby sitting in with my Elektric Band back in the 1980s, when we sort of discovered each other. Since then, each time we have gotten together for a tour, it’s been just play – no rehearsal, lots of improvisation. A pure joy,” says Corea.
Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea will perform at the Zappa Shuni Amphitheater on July 22 (doors open 7:30 p.m. show starts 9 p.m.); Zappa Club in Herzliya on July 23 (doors open 8:15 p.m. show starts 10 p.m.), with an afternoon show on July 24 (doors open 12:15 p.m. show starts 2 p.m.). Their closing concert takes place on July 24 at Live Park in Rishon Lezion (doors open at 7:30 p.m. show starts 9 p.m.). For tickets and more information: *9080 and http://www.zappa-club.co.il/