The mesmerizing Bobby McFerrin will be playing a new instrument Jan. 31 at Kingsbury Hall.
With McFerrin's a capella hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy" incised on the national consciousness, audiences are primed to hear his trademark chest thump accompaniment. But McFerrin is an artist who needs to grow and change."Voicestra" is the new instrument of choice - a 10-member chorus that segues from gospel to jazz with amazing grace. Count on McFerrin collecting another armful of Grammys to go with the nine he already has.
In a telephone interview from San Francisco, McFerrin talked about his new musical endeavor. "I have a compulsion to continue to grow creatively," he said. "In two years off, I have not missed solo concerts at all. I figure it was an end of a phase."
During the two-year hiatus, McFerrin tried out a number of creative ventures. In addition to Voicestra, McFerrin spent a summer studying conducting in the Berkshires with Gustav Meier. "I like to conduct music that makes me dance," McFerrin said. "I'd only like to conduct things like `Addagio for Strings' - I'd hate to have to conduct what the `powers-that-be' would dictate," he laughed.
McFerrin also fulfilled a 2-year-old dream of conducting a large chorus for healing. A 300-voice choir held forth for 24 hours in a chant for healing at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. "The chant had the most unbelievable ending. At 23 hours and 45 minutes we saw a child that couldn't have been more than 4," McFerrin said. The chorus' voices went up every time the child's hands went up. "It was magnificent how it happened. When we saw the little hands go up in the air, it was the perfect way to end the chant - with a little child leading as they should."
When recording "Medicine Man," the newest McFerrin album featuring Voicestra, McFerrin took a turn at lyric writing. "When I went into the studio to record `Discipline,' I had the Bible lyrics in my head and was finding melodies as I went along. It was composed in the studio," he said. "I wanted `Garden of Eden' to be very simple, like an old man with his daughter on his knee trying to get this story across."
McFerrin brought in his 70-year-old father, Robert McFerrin Sr., a former baritone with the Metropolitan Opera, to sing on the new album. The album's last song is an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm dedicated to his mother. Family seems to be the anchor that keeps him fast on the ground when stardom could have him flying off kilter. McFerrin has been married for 15 years and has two sons. "I'm pretty much a homebody. It's easy to get airheaded, but I call in every night and keep reminding myself of the important things," he said.
"I think we have a tremendous responsibility to bring heaven on earth. Music is God's gift to me. Sometimes I don't feel like plugging myself in, but the current is always there," McFerrin said.
- McFerrin's Voicestra will be at Kingsbury Hall for one performance only on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 and available at the Kingsbury Hall Box Office (581-7100) and all Smith'sTix outlets (467-5996 or 1-800-888-TIXX).