Jazz fest closer fun and full of love
Grammy Award-winning performer kept crowd happy, singing
By Erin Lebar, June 24, 2019 (link to article)
When Bobby McFerrin was announced as one of the headlining artists of this year’s Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, the first thing (and for some, the only thing) that came to mind was his 1988 hit single now synonymous with his name, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
But for true fans of McFerrin, Sunday night at the Burton Cummings Theatre was a chance to see a 10-time Grammy Award-winning jazz vocal legend in action.
McFerrin, 69, took a seat centre stage and, without saying a word, began to scat. Slowly he was joined by upright bass, piano and mandolin, interacting with each in an almost call-and-response style. It was a very soft introduction to the evening, but it also spoke volumes about the quality of performers on stage.
"I’m good at starting things, but I ain’t good at finishing things," McFerrin sang, taking a brief scatting break to introduce the audience to his lighthearted and jocular personality for the first, but certainly not the last, time.
"I don’t know what I am doing on this piano, I never play it, ever," he crooned to a classic blues melody, while playing the piano very well.
McFerrin is known for his vocal prowess — impressive jumps in pitch, scatting, improvisation — and much of his set was focused on these techniques. He patted his chest with force to keep the beat and alter the tone of his lower register; he fluttered through his falsetto, hitting improbably high notes; he played around with his exceptionally skilled bandmates — Gil Goldstein on piano and accordion, Jeff Carney on bass and David Mansfield on slide guitar, fiddle and mandolin — challenging them with changes of key and speed.
McFerrin jokingly asked if anyone in the crowd happened to have an extra trumpet, trombone... or a kazoo, which one woman, named Jody, actually did happen to have in her purse. He brought her up to the floor in front of the stage for a hilarious exchange that resulted in a Bobby/Jody, voice/kazoo duet. Not long after, he asked if any singers in the crowd wanted to do a duet; unsurprisingly, a small line quickly formed on either side of a seated McFerrin, legs dangling from the edge of the stage as he passed a microphone back and forth. It’s always nice when an artist really gets connected with fans, but this went on a little longer than it probably should have.
It wasn’t until a solid 20 minutes into the set when McFerrin sang his first unimprovised tune of the night, 1982’s Feline. He followed that with a cover of Van Morrison’s Moondance and a stunning rendition of Blackbird by the Beatles, both of which he infused with his own scatty style and the latter of which ended with a carefully executed audience sing-along.
After a bit of a self-imposed giggle fit, McFerrin stumbled his way into a "politically correct tune," He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, that had the whole crowd laughing along with him yet again.
As an encore, McFerrin returned to answer a handful of audience questions, but did not play Don’t Worry, Be Happy, which was perhaps the funniest part of the whole night.
McFerrin’s performance style isn’t clean, and it isn’t precise, but it’s fun and full of love, and sometimes that’s worth just as much.
Winnipeg roots duo Leaf Rapids started the night off in a similar vein. The married pair of Keri and Devin Latimer were joined by guitarist Chris Dunn and Joanna Miller on drums, creating a tight four-piece who impressed the crowd with a hilarious and heartfelt set.
Keri is sharp in both her banter and her songwriting, taking time between tracks to tell stories that continued to unfold in her lyrics; the one about Virginia, who packs her kids lunches in liquor store bags; the one about her family members, who were in Japanese internment camps; the "love song" about two lovers who get killed by vultures; the one about her great-grandmother, who stabbed a lumberjack in the thigh. Her wonderfully dark sense of humour shines through in all.
Both Latimers (and their bandmates) are veterans of the Winnipeg music scene, so it goes without saying their musical and vocal performances were right on point. Somehow, though, it was Leaf Rapids’ first time playing the Burt, but they seemed right at home on the theatre’s iconic stage, especially when being ushered off of it with a standing ovation.