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Bobby McFerrin – “Circlesong Six”

This collection of songs was released in 1997, and has been a major go-to for me when I’m in need of inspiration and reflection/meditation.  They are spiritual, tribal, sacred, primal, classical and totally improvised.  This musical Renaissance man uses his remarkable 4-octave range voice from falsetto to baritone, combining that with polyphonic techniques and  tapping on his chest and using his breathing for percussive effects.

Photo by Ann Marsden

Bobby McFerrin (born 1950) is known for his #1 hit in 1988  “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, but quickly departed from that into using his voice as a pure instrument. According to McFerrin “When I was developing my own approach to improvisation, the only thing I had to practice was getting over the fear of doing it. I think that’s the only thing that really hampers people from improvising: they’re just afraid of looking like a fool or not having enough ideas. It’s a risk. It’s like opening a door to a dark room and going in. You don’t know what you’ll find. But I find that fascinating.  It doesn’t matter where you land. Just the act of leaping is where it’s at for me. That’s the big lesson: it’s the proBobby McFerrin.cess.  It’s the joy of the journey that’s the important thing.”

In 1984, the album “The Voice” was released and was considered a milestone in jazz history; ” it was the first time a jazz singer had recorded an entire album solo, without accompaniment or overdubbing, for a major label. Bobby McFerrin’s amazing ability to switch back and forth between bass notes and falsetto, along with his talent for jumping octaves, made this record quite a virtuoso showcase.”

McFerrin has also worked in collaboration other performers, including pianists Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul, drummer Tony Williams, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Esperanza Spalding, Wynton Marsalis, Richard Bona, Omar Hakim, and Cyro Baptista. He improvises with orchestras around the world, singing Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, etc.  On his fortieth birthday, he made his conducting debut, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra but says that  “I want to clarify that I am not a conductor. It took me a long, long time to realize that. I am a singer who conducts. I’m kind of a chameleon. I like to put myself in situations that are going to twist my brain up in ways that keep it interesting for me.”

He has 10 Grammys to his credit, and 13 albums.  He has a lot of gigs coming up…I suggest you catch one of them if at all possible.


More info here.
Circlesong 6 - Circlesongs