Inspired by Bach : Bobby McFerrin


"Intet nytt under solen", Bach er og har vært inspirasjonskilde for svært mange skapende mennesker - uavhengig av kunstform og sjanger. Albert Schweitzer mente alt fører til Bach, i forståelsen at Bach var et vendepunkt som alt pekte frem mot før, og alt i ettertid pekte tilbake til. 

Bach Project - Bobby McFerrin

"I'm surprised when you hear Bach's music that you don't just let yourself go.
It's so uplifting, I mean, it is a dance. I think Bach understood that."

In classical music where you already know the answers before you even begin the piece, you know what the answer is. Improv is you're questing all the way through. You're constantly asking yourself, how does this go, where does this go, why does this go. And not necessarily in my compositions but being an improviser. I know that I do travel in the Bachian sort of style and world."

You know it's funny that the musicians that are revered in all the conservatories and music schools were absolutely fabulous improvisers.
You know, Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. And it made it authentic and genuine.
And I think a lot of times in classical performances, we forget that, you know, we get so locked up in technique and how it sounds and playing the right notes. What people want to hear, they want to see the performer actually disappear into the music so that all you hear is the music and not so much be enthralled with the performance but enthralled with the experience of the music making.

- Bobby McFerrin

Music is not solely for our entertainment. I think it's a divine instrument for healing in the body, mind, soul, spirit. I sincerely, truly believe that. Music has such tremendous power. To me, that's our job as artists. That's the job description. You must bring joy. Not happiness, not a groove, whatever. You must bring joy. I think that's the assignment. I think that's it. I have no doubt about it.

– Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin is a genius of improvisation. He's a genre-bending vocal magician and conductor. And he sings the territory between music, mystery, and spirit. Who better to contemplate the human voice — its delights, its revelations, and its mystery? 

Watch this unedited, behind-the-scenes video of Krista Tippett interviewing Bobby McFerrin on Good Friday at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. A marvelous experience not to be missed!

Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, a National Humanities Medalist, and a New York Times bestselling author. 

She grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, and became a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin. After studying theology at Yale Divinity School in the early 1990s, she saw a black hole where intelligent public conversation about the religious, spiritual, and moral aspects of human life might be. She pitched and piloted her idea for several years before launching Speaking of Faith — later On Being — as a weekly national public radio show (initially based at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media) in 2003. What launched on two radio stations grew to over 400 across the U.S. and has received the highest honors in broadcasting, the Internet, and podcasting.

Bobby McFerrin

Vocalist, Composer, Conductor, Educator

2020 NEA Jazz Master

Bobby McFerrin is a master of vocal improvisation, using his four-octave range in various techniques, from scat singing to polyphonic overtone singing to vocal percussion, working both unaccompanied and with instruments. Oftentimes he will sound like an entire band all by himself, sometimes using his own body as a percussion instrument. A ten-time Grammy Award winner, McFerrin has moved comfortably among genres, and has won awards in both jazz and classical.

McFerrin's influences started with his father, who was the first African-American male to play leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera (he sang the part of Porgy (portrayed by Sidney Poitier) in the 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess) and his mother, also a professional singer and teacher. Hearing a variety of music growing up, McFerrin began playing first the clarinet, then the piano, forming a high school jazz band and continuing to play piano in college. At 27, he realized his true calling was singing, and spent the next six years developing his style, with a performance at the 1981 Kool Jazz Festival leading to a contract with Elektra Records. His recordings for the label include The Voice (1984), considered the first solo vocal jazz album recorded for a major label with no accompaniment or overdubbing.

In 1988, McFerrin had a big hit with "Don't Worry, Be Happy," from his album Simple Pleasures. Although the song became an enduring global sensation (the first a cappella song ever to reach top 40 in America), McFerrin moved in a different direction, creating a ten-person a cappella group Voicestra and working with various artists in the classical and jazz fields, including Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, and the Yellowjackets. He has also explored world music, such as on his 1997 release Circlesongs, which comprised spontaneous vocal improvisations on African and Middle Eastern themes.

In yet another turn in his career, McFerrin took up conducting in 1990 (on his 40th birthday) with the San Francisco Symphony after taking lessons from Seiji Ozawa and Gustav Meyer. "The conducting came up only because I was very curious about the art of it," McFerrin noted. Since, he has guest conducted symphony orchestras worldwide, and from 1994 to 1998 was creative director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. During his time with the orchestra, he developed the educational program CONNECT (Chamber Orchestra's Neighborhood Network of Education, Curriculum and Teachers), which provides supplementary music education free-of-charge to local public schools, reaching as many as 5,000 students annually.

My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy, finding inspiration in the folk traditions of every continent, composed music like Bach or Ives or James Brown or Bernstein, plus every sound I've ever heard or imagined. In the collective improvisations of jazz, to participate fully, each player brings their universe of influences, so we can listen, lead, and respond to each other in an ever-continuing real-time adventure. And, on top of all that, we actually get to play and to make up stuff for a living too! Thank you NEA for inviting me to be recognized with this honor, among so many of my dearest friends, influencers, fellow players, and some of the most imaginative beings on the planet.

- Bobby McFerrin