Bobby McFerrin Doesn’t Need a Set List

Who goes in front of a packed Popejoy house without a plan? Bobby McFerrin did Saturday night. But he’s attained the kind of mastery that makes his task look easy. That task: Using his four-plus octave vocal range and sense of play to entertain hundreds who paid 50 or more dollars just to see him for 90 minutes or so.

His program bio calls him an ambassador for classical and jazz music, and that’s apt. Making fun of the pomposity of both worlds, McFerrin’s so free and casual with what he does, everyone feels like they can participate.

And participate they did. He grabbed a free mic from the stage and sent it into the crowd, saying anyone could sing a song. He and jazz pianist Dave Grusin would accompany.

What do you know? The first woman who sang, short and plump with a brightly patterned jacket, tore it up. All McFerrin did was sit back and applaud. Then this young guy in a bow tie sang “This Little Light of Mine” before fumbling the words and recovering with “When I forget what I’m going to say, I’m gonna let it shine.” Then a big blues singer guy took the mic and did his thing very well.

When McFerrin passed out the mic, the audience tensed collectively. But the final relief when everything went well was coupled with serious joy.

Three audience-member dancers took the stage at McFerrin’s request, too. A beautiful modern dancer, a hip-hop pop-and-locker and a little girl about 4-years-old took turns while McFerrin improvised their music. The effect was stunning.

And, of course, a few-minute improvisation by McFerrin in which he used his full range, jumping in and out of the low lows and the high highs with amazing precision. His jazz improvs and covers were splendid, too.

The whole audience left in good spirits. That’s some trick.