A Casual Collaboration of Legends

This blog post is by Emily Schweich, a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major.

Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea

Left: Bobby McFerrin photo by Carol Friedman; Right: Chick Corea photo courtesy of Chick Corea Productions

The lights dimmed, and I settled into my seat – front and center in the Dekelboum Concert Hall. Executive director Marty Wollesen took the stage to welcome guests to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. A curly-haired man in jeans and a hooded jacket walked down the aisle next to me. He’s late, I thought. Who would be late to a big-name concert like this? A second glance — He looks like Chick Corea. The man crossed in front of the stage and casually took a seat at the piano next to Bobby McFerrin. Wait. He IS Chick Corea.

Musicians this virtuosic don’t need to put on a show to engage an audience. When done right, the music speaks for itself.

There were no grand introductions. There were no grand pretensions. The duo’s casual entrance set the stage for what felt like an extended jam session between old friends that the audience was lucky enough to observe. There was no stop to the music – even McFerrin’s tangled earpiece inspired a song.

Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea first collaborated more than 20 years ago on McFerrin’s album Play, and their performance at the Clarice Smith Center marked their first time performing together in over a year. Yet their musical communication and sensitivity ran so deep that one would think they rehearsed daily. Corea often leaned back in his chair to hear McFerrin’s pastiche of vocal percussion, whistling and scatting. McFerrin occasionally joined Corea at the piano to play.

Audience members weren’t just spectators. McFerrin called for guests to perform an interpretive dance onstage during one song, and a music student and his reluctant roommate worked up the courage to show off their moves, encouraging a slew of audience members to join them. Audience members took turns singing “Lullaby in Birdland” with McFerrin, and one lucky pianist had the chance to jam with both Corea and McFerrin.

While the pair worked effortlessly together, McFerrin and Corea were equally stunning alone. McFerrin amazed the audience with his solo rendition of “Blackbird.” He bounced between melody and harmony, bass line and rhythm, creating the illusion of four voices with his own. Using his tongue as percussion, he mimicked the fluttering of birds’ wings and made his own voice echo. In “Drive,” his overtone singing once again created the illusion that he wasn’t singing alone. Corea, who at times seemed eclipsed by the larger-than-life McFerrin, had his own chance to shine with a sensitive, colorful piano solo.

Instead of a traditional encore, the pair opened up the floor for questions from the audience, and one audience member asked them how much a student should practice per day. After a thoughtful reply, McFerrin added that it shouldn’t be hard for vocalists to find time to practice. “Your instrument is your whole body,” he said. “It’s not just an instrument. It’s you.”

Musicians this virtuosic don’t need to put on a show to engage an audience. When done right, the music speaks for itself.

“I try not to ‘perform’ onstage,” McFerrin has said. “I try to sing the way I sing in my kitchen, because I just can’t help myself. I want audiences to leave the theater and sing in their own kitchens the next morning.”

You bet I did.

Were you at the performance? What did you think? Let us know and leave a comment below, or on the event page.