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March 11, 2004

Seattle Times

Bobby is an orchestra conductor, and a singer with his own unique style of scatting, crooning and bopping through any kind of tune from the pop ditty "Don't Worry, Be Happy," to the complete score of "The Wizard of Oz," to a composition by Vivaldi.

Savion is a dynamic tap-dance master for the hip-hop age, who has made tap-dance hip again while hoofing his way through hit Broadway shows, slick Nike ads on TV, and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics opening ceremony. So is a double-bill evening of Bobby and Savion, two celebrated contemporary entertainers, bound to be an artistic marriage made in heaven? Or is it a blind date that could result in either a love connection or a culture clash?

Those who attend the Bobby McFerrin-Savion Glover concert Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre will be the first people in the country to find out. The performance, in part a benefit for the nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group (which runs the Moore and Paramount theaters) will mark the first time these two idiosyncratic showmen have shared a stage. (It won't be the last time: They've signed on to do several other joint dates around the country this year.)

When contacted in Philadelphia, where he resides with his wife and kids, McFerrin made it sound like he and Glover are going to be winging it in Seattle and relying on spontaneous double-combustion to carry them through. "We have never met and probably will not meet until we're in Seattle together," said McFerrin by telephone, in his sonorous baritone speaking voice. "But I enjoy that. I imagine we're going to do a lot of improvisation in the show.

"We'll probably each have a solo spot and also do some things together. I'm just bringing myself, no musicians."

While that sounds like a risky plan for most entertainers, McFerrin has long been a dedicated vocal improviser who specializes in impromptu variations on wordless tunes and flights of sonic fancy inspired by familiar songs and classical airs.

McFerrin swears he won't even have had a chat with Glover before they meet for a single rehearsal for the Paramount gig. "My agent Linda Goldstein fixed this up. We've been working together 24 years; she knows the kind of people I like to perform with," explains the singer, who has done concerts with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and comedian Robin Williams.

But McFerrin does acknowledge that he's seen Glover in action. Once. "I was ecstatic about (the performance)," McFerrin recalls. "I mean, Savion's energy and imagination are fabulous. He was really something to see, though that was so long ago."

In the intervening years, Glover has toured the country with "Bring in 'Da Noise ... ," co-written a book for young people ("Savion!: My Life in Tap"), and started a new tap-dance company called TiDii (billed as special guests at Saturday's Paramount Theatre event). Meanwhile, McFerrin took a lengthy detour from the pop mainstream to become a symphony conductor a satisfying, if unexpected, turn of events for this son of opera singer Robert McFerrin Sr. (the first African-American male soloist to appear at the Metropolitan Opera).

"Initially, conducting was my 40th birthday to myself," says the junior McFerrin, who celebrates his 54th birthday this month. "The San Francisco Symphony was gracious enough to extend an invitation to me, then word got out and the phone started to ring. The next thing I knew I was studying scores and learning what to do and say on the podium."

McFerrin moved with his wife, Deb, and their three children from California to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where for six years he served as associate conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He launched a new touring career that continues to bring him to symphony halls around the world to conduct the classics and perform his extended and playful a cappella vocal improvs.

While admitting he hasn't listened much to hip-hop or other recent pop music that's inspired 31-year-old Glover's generation, McFerrin does have experience meshing vocalizing with dancing. "I did a lot of stuff with (California dancer-choreographer) Tandy Beal, and some things with (drummer-dancer) Keith Terry and the Repertory Dance Theatre in Salt Lake City," he explains. "I actually learned to sing in part by watching dancers move. In fact, when I first started singing I used to just sit. Later I learned to get up and move around the stage and let my body help me sing." Isn't he just a tad nervous, though, about going into this first date with Glover with "no plan, no agenda, nothing"? "Not really," McFerrin replies evenly, without a hint of trepidation. "It's just all about making music."

I'd love to see this show! Please post if you catch it. Happy birthday Bobby! 54 today. Editor

Posted by acapnews at March 11, 2004 9:43 PM

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