Judi Vinar first saw Bobby McFerrin on the Grammy Awards back in the 80’s.
“I was blown away,” she said by phone from her home in the Twin Cities. “When I first heard Bobby do a solo piece, you know, a lot of what he does is jump around with a bass note and octave note on top and somehow he fits the melody inside of that.”
She went out and bought all his records.
Vinar grew up listening to a wide range of styles from Julie Andrews musicals to Tom Jones LPs, soaking up styles like a sponge. She studied classical music and singing at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. But in her heart, she said, she was always drawn to pop music and jazz.
And she’d not heard anyone sing like Bobby.
When McFerrin was appointed creative chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 1994, she jumped at the chance to sing with him. Her career as a singer, teacher, and conductor was taking off when she walked into a beautiful church and auditioned for him.
“He was very focused,” she remembered. “He has this (pardon the use of the term) ‘aura’ about him that is so very focused on its own that you sort of rise to meet it.”
Vinar (pronounced “vih-NAR”) rose to the occasion, sang well, and earned the chance to collaborate with McFerrin and a handful of other singers. They’ve been singing together for decades.
Together with a handful of other musicians, they’ll perform in Kodak Hall on March 4th at 8:00 p.m.
“It’s pure joy,” Vinar said. “We borrow music from the universe and we give it back.”
Starting offstage with a prayer circle, McFerrin and his collaborators will emerge for an evening of unscripted improvisation. The crowd will be invited to sing along, too. Vinar said, “Bobby says, we walk out empty and we leave full.”
She recalled that many of her sweetest memories of working with McFerrin were made off stage.
“We just have a blast. We sing at airports while we’re waiting for our luggage. If we’re having dinner at a restaurant, we tend to sing before the night is out. Those are really fun memories.” When she’s onstage and “catching songs,” doing improvisation, "it’s a beautiful blur because we're so involved in the present moment," said Vinar.
“Literally at the end of the show, you’re not going to remember most of what you did,” she said. “You might have a memory of one of those songs. Maybe! (she laughed) But the beauty of it is, the energy of being so awake and in tune to one another, that’s the best memory I have.”