Give or take a couple hundredths of a percent, about 97.7526% of the world’s ears were introduced for better or worse to Bobby McFerrin by way of his unlikely 1988 No. 1 poptart Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But thankfully my pair met the a capella fella two years earlier when I went to see the 1986 film ‘Round Midnight, albeit unknowingly. I say unknowingly because Herbie Hancock’s version of the movie’s title track featured what my wondrous ears thought was an awesome trumpeter named Bobby McFerrin, and subsequent plays of the cut on LA’s then-jazz station KKGO made me go out and by the album. It was only when surveying its liner notes, which listed McFerrin as a vocalist, that it dawned on me that Bobby played himself and not a piece of brass. Blown away, I immediately went out and bought his 1984 album The Voice, an amaaaaaazing solo jazz vocal recorded with no accompaniment or overdubbing. To date I have listened to it 867 times.
But back around its 91st spin on my turntable in the summer of 1987 I luckily stumbled on the information that McFerrin was to be part of an upcoming night of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Sarah Vaughn and Modern Jazz Quartet, and I scraped the money together for cheap seats for me and my then-fiancee to be present.
Vaughn filled the Bowl with her magnificence, followed by the ultra-formality of the tight and orderly tuxedo’d MJQ. After they left the stage, out walked McFerrin, casual in jeans and barefeet, to the center of the stage where he stood there all by himself and just blew the capacity crowd away. When he finished his set he bowed, and walked just as casually and just as barefooted off the stage to 17,000 people on their feet and cheering for him not to go.
Nearly a quarter century later I get chills just thinking about that astounding evening, a distinct and unforgettable privilege of which it was to be a part.
And I get chills thinking about this coming Wednesday, July 13 at 8 p.m., when McFerrin will be back at the Bowl for a night appearing with Yellowjackets and featuring trumpeter Chris Botti. And so will I. That tickets are still available means the privilege awaits you, too.
Below is a YouTube clip of an amazing improvisation between bassist Richard Bona and McFerrin that they created in Montreal. I am jealous of everyone in the audience: