When the 2014 Ottawa jazz festival was announced I scrutinized the list and started googling. I searched for management contacts and booking agencies and started sending out emails. The idea was to try and get signed merchandise from some of the artists in order to raise funds for the not-for-profit I was running. To say the exercise was futile would be a lie, but let’s just say that not every shot goes in the net. So I tell you, I was pretty excited when I got a message back from the road manager of one of my favourite musicians ever, the wonderful and unique Bobby McFerrin.
June 29th was the day and I arrived onsite mid-afternoon with a couple of microphones for him to sign. Fortunately I had met Mr. McFerrin after his concert the first time I saw him twenty years before when I was free to enjoy a great fanboy moment with him (he even sang Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee as he was signing my program), because when I met artists in my role as founder and president of Instruments For Africa I wanted to exude professionalism, not drool. Sure, I would invariably acknowledge my appreciation of their career with a quick, “I’m a long-time fan,” (which was invariably true) but I always tried to keep my desire to pontificate in check when I was there in an official capacity.
Anyway, I can report a couple of things: Bobby was very friendly as he shook my hand and signed the gear. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t ask what organization he was signing stuff for (probably he didn’t – most people don’t ask) but he did say he appreciated that I was working to help others. Further, I can report that something about Bobby seemed a little…off somehow. Not in a bad way, but he was noticeably…um…childlike maybe? Mentally distant perhaps? Honestly, I wondered if he was on “the spectrum”, which could possibly explain his simple yet uncanny insight into not only music, but how he presents music to people. I guess I had it right earlier when I wrote: “wonderful and unique”.
A final note about the pre-show meeting: As I was leaving, Bobby’s road manager approached me with her hand extended. “Here,” she said, handing me a wad of $20’s. “They gave us $100 per diem for food but we don’t need it because they also brought us dinner…” That still stands as the only time an artist donated money as well as their time (and signatures). I was super-impressed.
But getting to the part where Bobby McFerrin was “presenting music to people”, once showtime came the long, tall dreadlocked vocalist spent ninety minutes forcing air out of his lungs and into his microphone and not once did he ever sing anything like any of us had ever heard anyone else sing before. And yet his music was thoroughly engaging and wholly accessible throughout. Can I say it again? Wonderful and unique.
And as for that “spectrum” stuff I was saying earlier; I don’t know nothin’ from nothin’ and I might just be talking out my butt, but for what it’s worth (and it ain’t worth much) there’s a reason that I refer to stuff like that as an “ability” rather than a “disability”.
(For example, I’ve self-diagnosed as OCO – aka “obsessive-compulsive order” – which I refuse to call OCD because I have enough of a handle on it that rather than plummeting my life into constant spiralling chaos the condition has in fact ordered my life into a rather tidy existence that allows me to focus on tiny tasks with great interest and stamina. Tasks like gardening, practising guitar, and writing daily ticket stories.)
Good concert, good guy.