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February 15, 2005

McFerrin includes young audience in jazz experience

Kalamazoo Gazette (MI):

The concert did not involve classical music, but the children who attended vocalist Bobby McFerrin's Friday morning show at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium got a heavy dose of sophistication anyway. The sophistication came from the syncopated rhythms and complex note lines of the jazz music that McFerrin and WMU vocal jazz group Gold Company presented. Miller was filled with a frenzy of activity before the show. Kids switched seats, made faces, wiped runny noses and teased each other. But when McFerrin opened his mouth, the kids closed theirs, except when asked to sing along. Kids got to clap to the beat of the music, applaud when they felt like it, even yell when McFerrin pointed at them to do so as part of a song.

The concert included a touch of instruction. McFerrin and Gold Company director Steve Zegree tried to explain the difference between people who swing -- feel the swing beat of jazz music -- and people who don't. "People who really swing are so cool you often don't see them swinging," McFerrin joked, and the crowd roared with laughter. About 2,500 students from area elementary, junior high and high schools attended the one-hour show, a shortened version of shows to be performed at 2 and 8 p.m. today at Miller Auditorium. It was Miller Auditorium's one big outreach children's show for the year, partly sponsored by the countywide Education for the Arts program.

McFerrin rarely does shows for children. He agreed to do it, in part, because of his close relationship with Zegree. Their friendship dates back to the early 1980s at Foot Hill College in Los Altos, Calif., where a mutual friend was teaching. That was way before McFerrin's big hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and before McFerrin got the idea of singing a capella as a career. McFerrin performs shows for kids off and on, he said, and when he does, it is usually with an orchestra that provides an outreach program for kids. McFerrin is a great believer in exposing children to live, professionally performed music. He took his son Taylor, 23, to a concert when Taylor was 3 months old, he said in an interview following the Miller show. McFerrin also has fond memories of the first show he attended as a 6-year-old boy, a performance of "Rigoletto" by the Metropolitan Opera in 1956. His father, Robert McFerrin Sr., was a singer in the show.

"I remember it was big, overwhelming, great staging," McFerrin said. "There was this storm scene. I can still see the darkness, feel the night, feel the wind from the wind machines. It freaked me out because it was so realistic." On Friday, McFerrin's scat singing was perfect for young minds -- what kid doesn't get a kick out of hearing gibberish? "Say, 'Did del la,'" McFerrin said, pointing his microphone toward the audience. "Now, 'Bid dee da.' Now do it fast. That's all there is." That interaction followed a song that McFerrin, Gold Company and the group's band composed on the spot. McFerrin asked the bass player to play a line, directed the drummer to keep time, then scatted with Gold Company and the audience in a call-and-response pattern.

He later explained that improvisation is the main ingredient in jazz. "It comes from the whole idea that we create as we go," McFerrin said in a nasal voice to great laughter, mocking the stereotype of a college professor. McFerrin and Gold Company performed "Stomping at the Savoy," "In a Mellow Tone," "Melancholy Baby," the student composition "Groove With Me," and two McFerrin compositions, "Jubilee" and "All I Want Is You." The vocal arrangement for "All I Want Is You" had never been performed before.

Posted by acapnews at February 15, 2005 12:21 AM