BOBBY MCFERRIN / “Bobby McFerrin Mixtape”

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Everybody knows “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Well, not literally “everybody” but certainly most adults in the United States and in major metropoles around the world, all of them have heard the song or at the very least recognize the phrase. The song is an iconic statement of the ability of the underclass to find moments of happiness even in the midst of years and years of trouble, toil and endless worriation. And, in fact, not just the underclass, also the continually harassed working and middle class people who are bombarded with rules to be followed, social expectations to be met, government imposed obligations to be fulfilled, and a chronic psycho-social malaise for which there seems to be no cure.

Although critics dismissed “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a trifle, Mr. McFerrin’s song heart-struck us, opened our third eye and, it’s lightness not withstanding, made a heavy impact on us. Our lives are such sad affairs. We want so desperately to be happy. A song like this actually articulates a deep longing lodged—encaged even—in the breast of most of us.

Given the above introduction, a paradoxical truth is that as deep as I think the song plunges into our social realities, I doubt that I would have featured the song or even thought to do a retrospective of McFerrin’s recordings were it not for the release of Vocabularies, a marvelous new album by Bobby McFerrin.
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Once I started in on adding a few songs to the Mixtape playlist, I was astounded, blown-away, and shamed—shamed because Bobby McFerrin has recorded so much great music and I had overlooked it because… well, I guess because I thought I knew about him; knew about “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”; knew that he used to do a lot of straight ahead jazz; knew that he also does classical music; knew that he does solo concerts where he stands up alone and entrances audiences with nothing but a creative use of his voice and body. I thought I knew Bobby McFerrin.
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Don’t make the mistake I made. Bobby McFerrin is a lot deeper, a lot broader, a lot more important than most of us think he is. And he has made the records to prove it. (Moreover, if awards mean anything to you, you are probably unaware that Bobby McFerrin has won ten Grammy awards—and I think Vocabularies ought to earn him at least one more.)

What I have done is not a career retrospective per se but is more a sampling based on what I like of some of his many recordings over the years. Believe it or not, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was added into this two-and-a-half plus hour Mixtape at the last minute. Yeah, I was going to skip it because, well, you know, because everybody knows it.

I start the Mixtape off with two selections from a German recording of a vocal ensemble featuring Bobby McFerrin along with Lauren Newton, Urszula Dudziak, Jeanne Lee, and Jay Clayton. This 1991 recording of a European concert indicates some of the directions McFerrin would eventually take.

The avant garde edge on the album presents some of Bobby’s most adventurous vocal work. Early on Bobby hit it big doing literal “solo” concerts featuring voice and body percussion. Initially, some of us regarded those solo performances as one-off oddities rather then genuine musical concerts but Bobby persisted. The only other vocalist I have experienced able to do a full solo set and keep the music interesting is Jeanne Lee. Bobby’s version of “Blackbird” is a quintessential example of solo McFerrin.
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Because of his solo abilities and because of the effectiveness of the choral ensembles he assembles, it is easy to overlook Bobby McFerrin as a straight ahead jazz vocalist. We have included a few of those tracks—and notice, when he is not singing falsetto, in a straight ahead context you can hear the Johnny Mathis sound in Bobby McFerrin’s singing. Yes, Johnny Mathis, odd as it may seem. Just listen and you will hear it.

I am most moved by the vocal ensembles and the arrangements for multiple voices. The new album Vocabularies features over 50 different singers. There was a lot of production work on this one to piece together singing that was recorded in a variety of settings at different times.

Before Bobby’s latest recording, my favorite of Bobby’s album was Medicine Music, which features a vocal ensemble. Medicine Music is heavier on lyrics than Vocabularies although the sound of the vocal ensemble on Vocabularies is superb.

Bobby McFerrin is an absolute genius when it comes to creating vocal music regardless of format. Whether all by his lonesome, or supported by musicians, or working within a vocal choir, Bobby McFerrin has no peers as a vocalist.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Bobby McFerrin Mixtape Pllaylist

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Sorrow Is Not Forever - Love Is - Vocal Summit
01 “Sorrow Is Not Forever - Love Is” 
02 “Chant For Five”

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Hush - Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin
03 “Stars”
04 “Hush Little Baby”

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Simple Pleasures
05 “Don't Worry, Be Happy”

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The Voice
06 “Blackbird”

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Bobby’s Thing (aka Lady Fair)
07 "Bobby’s Thing”

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Bang! Zoom
08 “Friends”
09 “Remembrance”
10 “Freedom Is A Voice”
11 “Heaven's Design”

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Play – Bobby McFerrin & Chick Corea
12 “ 'Round Midnight”

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Bobby McFerrin
13 “Moondance”
14 “Peace”

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15 “Circlesong Two”
16 “Circlesong Six”
17 “Circlesong Seven”

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Beyond Words
18 “Fertile Field”
19 “Ziggurat”
20 “Marlowe”

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Medicine Music
21 “Yes, You”
22 “Sweet In The Morning”
23 “Discipline”
24 “The 23rd Psalm”

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25 “Brief Eternity”
26 “Say Ladeo”
27 “Wailers”
28 “He Ran to the Train”

This entry was posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 7:36 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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