Bobby McFerrin 'doesn't need a band'
Say Bobby McFerrin and people will say, "the guy who sang 'Don't Worry Be Happy,' right?" Well, 20-plus years ago. But to let that ditty sum up McFerrin for you is like letting Jack Nicholson's part in the 1969 "Little Shop of Horrors" define the actor.
McFerrin's range was amazing even if somewhat laid-back Friday night at Britt in what was pretty much a straight jazz show that had McFerrin paired with his old pals, The Yellowjackets.
Thirty years and 20 albums on, the electric/acoustic jazz of the Grammy-winning 'jackets hasn't lost its zing (admission: I'm a long-time admirer). Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Bob Mintzer and Will Kennedy put together a unique vibe whether headlining or backing up.
The singer and the band have collaborated going back 15 years, since the jazzers showed up on McFerrin's album "Bang, Zoom!" and nobody's ego gets in the way.
The set started with a Jimmy Haslip bass groove on which McFerrin laid effortless scat. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt, dreads pulled back, his little goatee gone gray, McFerrin slid from smoky baritone to smooth falsetto. He followed with a lost-love tune and an upbeat bossa nova-infused number he dedicated to the ladies from the Black Bear Diner ("This one's for you, darlin'.").
He played his voice, strummed his chest with his right hand to the mouth percussion coming from his body, threw in more scat, then switched to one-note motifs he had the audience singing as well. Then, just as the audience was getting into it, he launched into a complex scat-a-thon comically out of reach.
His genius is not simply the pyrotechnics but the doing of it with an ease that'd make old-time smoothies like Dean Martin and Perry Como seem to be working as hard as James Brown.
The vocal chops are partly genetic. McFerrin's father, baritone Robert McFerrin, was the first African-American singer to appear on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. The rest of the talent comes from somewhere else. At one point the band members exited the stage, and McFerrin sang an a cappella duet with himself, both baritone and soprano parts, accompanied by himself on mouth and body percussion.
Opening for the legends was the Yesberger Band, a bright-cheeked jazz trio from the Berklee School of Music led by the young singer/keyboardist/composer Devon Yesberger, who actually says things like, "It's so much fun being in a band!" on stage. The boys turned in an ebullient if uneven set of mostly original tunes, the best of which was the Jamie Cullum-esque "Bad Weather."
A funny moment occurred when Yesberger introduced one of his songs as nostalgic. He'd written it in high school. Two years ago.
So the evening's vocal gamut ran from a singer who doesn't quite have control of his voice yet to an artist who has maybe more control over his than anybody, ever. McFerrin, too, left the stage, giving it over to what he said was his favorite band.
The Yellowjackets responded with some adventurous but accessible jamming, then McFerrin was back, singing that lovely ballad about how we need peace for our children so they may have a better life. That's when the inner review deadline bell kicked in, but it was a lovely note to leave on.
Yellowjackets saxman Bob Mintzer may have put it best, gesturing at Bobby and saying, "He doesn't need a band."