Singer Bobby McFerrin wants to spread joy at his show here

Bobby McFerrin says he has learnt a lot about performing live from late comedian Robin Williams. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
Bobby McFerrin says he has learnt a lot about performing live from late comedian Robin Williams. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

Most people know American singer Bobby McFerrin from the ubiquitous optimistic anthem Don't Worry, Be Happy.

The song, which topped the charts worldwide when it was released in 1988 and won three Grammy awards, is his only mainstream hit song to date.

But McFerrin is far from being a one-hit wonder. For close to four decades, he has built up his name as one of the most accomplished vocal artists in the world.

"I'm glad so many people love the song," he tells Life! in an e-mail interview. "I'm glad it's given me the chance to sing all the other things that bring joy to a wider audience."

The 64-year-old will be in Singapore to perform at Marina Bay Sands tomorrow in a set that is part of this year's Singapore International Jazz Festival, or SingJazz.

The festival, now into its second year, begins tonight with a gala concert which features American funk and soul veteran Chaka Khan, British acid-jazz stalwarts Incognito and Cameroon-born jazz singer and bassist Richard Bona.

Besides McFerrin, tomorrow's line-up includes popular American trumpeter Chris Botti and Singapore jazz veteran Jeremy Monteiro together with Italian jazz and blues organist Alberto Marsico.

Saturday's line-up features acts including pop singer Jessie J and home-grown singer-songwriter Charlie Lim, while Sunday will see performances by Malaysian singer Yuna and British acid jazz and funk band Brand New Heavies.

McFerrin's last gig here was at the Esplanade Concert Hall in 2004, where he performed with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and home-grown acts Monteiro and Tribal Tide.

The 10-time Grammy winner recalls: "I remember vividly what playing in Singapore felt like, but it's hard for me to put it into words. I loved the audience and the musicians who sat in with me and I'm excited to come back and feel that feeling again."

These days, he plays shows all over the world and his current tour sees him playing in countries ranging from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Despite his years of experience on stage, McFerrin insists that he is still learning. When it comes to being in front of an audience, he says his best teacher was the late American comedian Robin Williams, a close collaborator who appeared in the music video for Don't Worry, Be Happy.

He says: "I'm better at that than I was when I first started. I learnt a lot from Robin Williams, he was amazing with the audience. He got them to go with him way out to the edge, beyond the comfort zone to some place new."

McFerrin is best known for his unusual approach to singing, using his voice to create myriad sounds and melodies through techniques including vocal percussion and overtone singing.

Don't Worry, Be Happy, in fact, was the first song done a cappella, using only vocal sounds, to top the Billboard charts.

Born in New York to opera singer Robert McFerrin and singer Sara Copper, he spent six years refining his singing style before releasing his eponymous debut in 1982.

Besides singing, he is also a conductor who has collaborated with orchestras including the San Francisco Symphony and the London Philharmonic.

While McFerrin admits that he gets tired more easily these days, his vocal range has not diminished over the years.

His tastes in music have changed over the years though and he says he prefers listening to "quieter music" compared to his younger days.

"I sleep as much as I can," he adds. "I rest my voice between shows, I don't go to parties or loud places. I drink a lot of water and tea and eat healthy food. And I try to laugh as much as possible."

He is looking forward to coming to Singapore to perform with his band that share the same name as his most recent album, spirityouall, which was released in 2013.

He says: "I want people to leave the theatre feeling joyful and free and playful and ready to make stuff up. I want them to feel energised and creative."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg