• This Week in JazzSet History: Bobby McFerrin in France

    February 20, 2012. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    jazzset.org header with hatBeginning the first week of January, 1992, NPR and WBGO introduced JazzSet with Branford Marsalis with our first performance by Branford's former teacher, New Orleans clarinetist Alvin Batiste and the Jazztranauts, onstage in Ohio. After hosting for a decade, Branford handed the mic to  Dee Dee Bridgewater.

    This is the first installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet .

    My name is Alex Ariff. I’ve been drilling down through the archives, to bring you This Week in JazzSet History. Each Monday, we’ll listen to JazzSet moments from my favorite handpicked performances over the past two decades.

    This week, we listen back to performances by the ultra-human Bobby McFerrin and humanist rap from Béla Fleck & The Flecktones at their Blue Note debut in 1991. First let’s visit the south of France where Bobby McFerrin took the stage in August 2001 with his quartet: Gil Goldstein (piano, accordion), Richard Bona (bass), Omar Hakim (drums) and McFerrin on vocals of course.

    If there is one word that can describe Bobby McFerrin’s vocal ability, I would say control. With every manipulation of the beat and timbre shift in his voice, he has complete command of the music. This musical moment from “Caribogo” includes McFerrin “trading” with his band.  They provide breaks (stops in the music) allowing McFerrin to fill in space freely with improvisations. Listen closely as the breaks intensify.

    McFerrin plays around with the groove, inserting various challenging cross rhythms (beats that fall against the steady groove) keeping everyone, band mates and audience, on their toes! He is completely in control. The next two  examples, “Sweetie Funk” and “I Want You,” also showcase his vocal authority.

    Bobby McFerrin
    Bobby McFerrin

    In “Sweetie Funk”, McFerrin’s shows off his wide range and undeniable groove within the rhythm section. With Bobby McFerrin, less is more, and soulful feeling comes first! Look no further than his incredible rendition of Lennon/McCartney classic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”).

    Béla Fleck & The Flecktones debuted at The Blue Note in 1991 with their original line-up Victor Wooten (bass), Lamar Wooten (synth-axe drumitar), Howard Levy (harmonica, piano) and Fleck (banjo). In this selection, “Sex In A Pan”, Victor Wooten provides his commentary on society in a jazz-rap, perhaps the first rap ever to appear in The Blue Note in NYC. The tune’s title is unrelated. It’s the name of a dessert the band ate in North Carolina: chocolate pudding, cool whip on top and graham cracker crust.

    IMG_5711-1Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the connection between jazz and five American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes.

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