Singing with a choir, Bobby McFerrin returns to The City 

Former San Francisco resident Bobby McFerrin just turned 60 on March 11. But he hasn’t celebrated yet. “I’ll do that when I hit the Bay Area next week,” the Grammy-winning jazz legend, who now lives in rural Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview. “Starting with a visit to my favorite taqueria on Mission Street, as soon as my plane touches down, then continuing into several get-togethers with old, old friends.” He’ll be here to perform a choir-backed version of his operatic new experiment “VOCAbuLarieS,” his first album in nine years. So two congrats are in order: Happy birthday and welcome back.

So how will you be performing this music in town? You know, I don’t know! And what’s great about this experience for me is that I actually have a partner — a co-composer, Roger Treece, who did the album arranging — and he prepares the choirs. So he does a lot of workshopping and rehearsing with the choirs before I even arrive, so I’m not sure how he’s going to approach each choir, because they each have their own sound. And that’s the point — a local choir will perform this music, so it’ll have a different sound everywhere we go.

Is it weird being on the East Coast now, experiencing winter?
One thing I’ve noticed is that I find the seasonal changes invigorating and actually life-affirming. This season we had nearly 80 inches of snow, and there were moments when we really couldn’t get out of our house. And I found that kind of exciting. But as a California kid, I must say that now I enjoy the seasonal changes. I really get spring fever now — things are beginning to bloom, and there’s an energy that you can actually feel.

“VOCAbuLarieS” is sort of a tactile album. And colorfully visual, too, no? That makes a lot of sense. A lighting designer just offered to light the show, and I think that’s a cool idea, because we’ve got one color coming from the singers and another color that could really enhance the sound, or set the mood that’s trying to be conveyed.

I just heard your classic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on a TV show the other day. Are royalty checks still cramming your mailbox? Yeah! My daughter saw it on “The Office” — they ended the show by someone saying, “In the noted words of the English philosopher Bobby McFerrin, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’” I wrote it in 1987, but that tune is still working for me. I’ve even seen teenage garage bands playing it on YouTube. That song has meant a lot. To a lot of people.

 

IF YOU GO

Bobby McFerrin

Where: Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $85
Contact: (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org

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Doug Graham

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