Saturday, June 8, 1996
McFerrin's Style Leaves Everyone Happy
By David Duckman [David Royko]
Special to the Tribune
It is about as easy to classify Bobby McFerrin as it is for the
proverbial group of blind men to describe the elephant--it all depends
on what happens to be in front of you at a given moment. His performance
with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night at Navy Pier's Skyline
Stage was unique and entertaining, no matter where one's tastes happen
Known primarily as a vocalist with a genius for scat and an
exceptional range, on this night McFerrin also played conductor, vocal
coach and standup comedian, and kept the proceedings flowing seamlessly
as he leaped from one persona to another. The core of his show was the
half-hour unaccompanied segment that concluded the program's first half,
which he began by shooing the orchestra off the stage and asking the
audience to give a round of applause "for this fine band," a line
delivered with a perfectly accented impersonation of a lounge lizard.
He then launched into a funky, improvised vocalise, into which he
incorporated Wednesday night's Bulls score, the planes flying overhead,
the evening's weather, his attire and the fact that his family was
seated in the third row.
Soon after, he was involving the audience in a series of
sing-alongs, covering the Beatles ("I Want You" and "Blackbird"), the
theme from "Peter Gunn" and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." He ultimately
played the audience as if it were one of those huge plastic keyboards
that one plays by jumping from key to key, schooling the crowd to sing
certain notes depending on where on the stage he leaped.
Most amazing of all was his rendition of the Bach/Gounod "Ave
Maria." Asking if anyone in the crowd knew the piece from beginning to
end, he ended up with a brave woman standing beside him, with her
singing the melody while McFerrin flawlessly sang the accompaniment, in
a display of technique that was as dazzling as it was beautiful.
He concluded his solo set with what could be called a "Wizard of Oz"
operetta, playing and singing all the roles before finally dousing
himself with a glass of water and melting away.
If this were not enough, it turns out that McFerrin is no dilettante
when he picks up a baton. His performance of Bernstein's Overture to
Candide sparkled, the strings singing sumptuously through the "Oh
Happy We" theme, while Gershwin's American In Paris benefited from
McFerrin's deep understanding of jazz, with his dramatic application of
rubato bringing out the piece's hard-swinging rhythms.
McFerrin and the CSO will repeat this program at 8 p.m. Saturday at
the Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora. Phone 708-896-6666.
PHOTO: Bobby McFerrin: His performance is unique and
entertaining, regardless of one's taste. Reuters file photo.