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February 2, 2007

A chat with Bobby

The Scotsman (Scotland):

Singer Bobby McFerrin says he can no longer leap around on stage as he used to but his ability to amaze audiences by improvising across four octaves, using his background in jazz and classical music, has not changed. After an 18 month concert hiatus, the U.S. singer, best known for taking a cappella music mainstream with his 1988 hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy," has just kicked off a tour taking him across the United States and Europe.

In an interview with Reuters, McFerrin, 56, discussed his career and the art of improvisation while wearing a hot pad to nurse a sore back with an open Bible on a nearby coffee table:

Q: Your Bible is turned to page one of Genesis. Are you making a fresh start?

A: "You could say that. I read the Bible every day. I start my day with it and end my day with it."

Q: You don't seem to want to be the huge-in-the-news guy all the time, despite your successes.

A: "I'm more into working, longevity. I'm just grateful to have, you know, gigs, to be working constantly. The other stuff, it's not something that I actually feed into. If it happens it's not intentional. Like "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was not intentional. I didn't go out and write something that I thought would be a hit. My focus has never been about that. It's always been about the music."

Q: Could you have cashed in commercially.

A: "What's interesting is that I kept getting that at the beginning of my career. Record companies would say, and I heard this all the time: 'Do what we want first, get the income and then you can do what you want'. But that's a bunch of baloney, I don't believe that. I always thought do what you want, and not necessarily the money will come but I'll have some success and I'll have some musical integrity."

Q: When you improvise, do you have in your head collections of thousands of little things that you then assemble into a piece or do you think it is coming out of nowhere?

A: "Probably, it has to come from somewhere. I like to think it's coming out of nowhere, because I don't think about what I'm going to do offstage. I mean, I don't carry any ideas with me. (But) I probably draw from the things that I have heard."

Q: Does it get more difficult over time as you get older to have that same kind of energy you have when performing?

A: "Yeah, there are some things I don't do. I used to do these incredible leap jumps after a piece, kick my feet up in the air. I can't do that anymore. I don't have the same kind of energy. When I started doing solo concerts I was 30, 31. Now I'll be 57 in March. I just got off a sabbatical. I was off the road for 17 months. My very first gig was a conducting gig and I threw my back out."

Q: On the months off, were you relaxing or recording?

A: "I was sitting on my front porch, I was walking my dogs every day. We live out in the woods in Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Reading, studying, writing some, driving my daughter from school, picking her up from basketball practice. Learning how to work a computer."

Q: In 2002 you said you thought you had done everything you could as a solo singer. Do you still feel that?

A: "No. I did back then. I thought I can't take this any further. I don't believe that anymore. I feel that I could go deeper, try some different things. I think I have gone as far as I can as far as technique wise. I think my technique is pretty complete. But as far as sort of the sonic places that I go I'm sure there is more to explore."

Posted by acapnews at February 2, 2007 12:01 AM