It can be aggravating when you're a big fan of an artist, and all other people know about them is that one annoying, stupid song that they did. That is most definitely the case with one of my favorite musicians....
Bobby McFerrin is an amazing singer, with a great range, perfect pitch, and a captivating way of singing a cappella, making music using many aspects of his voice. He's also classically trained, an expert on Mozart, and a very gifted conductor. Years ago, I saw him lead the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in a program of Mozart, with a long vocal improvisation in the middle...
AND ALL PEOPLE FUCKING KNOW ABOUT HIM IS "DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY"!!!!!!
*pant, pant, pant* Whew! OK....
Surely one of the most annoying 80's songs next to "We Are the World" and "Walking On Sunshine", "Don't Worry" was a smash hit that was everywhere. And I remember even as a kid, it rang false with me. I'd seen Bobby perform on TV before, and I thought what is this? The faux-Jamaican accent, the flat vocals, the ridiculously simple tune.... it's like if you got Placido Domingo to sing the theme from Three's Company! It's just not representative of the man's talent. It was a fluke hit for him, but that was the zeitgeist at the time.
"Don't Worry..." - and the album it came from, Simple Pleasures - are nowhere near this post. What we start with are his two earlier albums for Elektra - The Voice and Spontaneous Inventions. Voice was an eye-opener for the jazz world, performed entirely unaccompanied. Bobby alternates bass lines, drums on his chest, becoming his own rhythm section. And he can make his voice sound like a muted trumpet, soloing over it all. Key tracks are his versions of "Blackbird" and "I Feel Good", the great "Medley", and the fantastic "I'm My Own Walkman".
Spontaneous was my first CD of his, and still my fave. It's a bit jazzier affair, featuring versions of "Walkin'" (with Wayne Shorter) and "A Night In Tunisia" (w The Manhattan Transfer). Also has one of my fave Beatles covers, his take on "From Me To You". And his duet with Robin Williams, "Beverly Hills Blues", is just phenomenal. Both these albums were recorded live, by the way. They're in one file.
The next album, Medicine Man from 1990, is a bit different. Bobby creates background vocals by multi-tracking himself. It's a great, organic sound. "Sweet In The Mornin'" features a group called Voicestra singing with him. On "Discipline", Voicestra and Bobby Sr. help deliver a solid, gospel-tinged number. The whole album has a mellow, funky world-beat kind of feel. A great summertime CD.
Bobby has had a long friendship with pianist Chick Corea. I have two CD's where they collaborate. This first one, Play ('92), is a live album of duets. There's amazing versions of jazz standards like "Round Midnight" and "Autumn Leaves", as well as "Spain", which is a variation on the Concerto D'Aranjuez. This album sneaks up on you; it's that good.
The next disc, The Mozart Sessions, has Bobby leading the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with Chick playing piano. Bobby sings as well, but it's not the focus of the music until "Song For Amadeus", where he and Chick improvise off of "Sonata No. 2 in F Major". Gorgeous classical music. If you don't have any Mozart CD's, start with this one!
The last disc here is Mouth Music. It is a Sony compilation of his 90's material. Repeats four tracks from the previous classical discs, but it's not a throwaway. Has a different version of "Round Midnight" featuring members of Miles Davis' 60's Quintet. Also several tracks with Yo-Yo Ma, as well as two great "Circlesong" tracks from 1997.