Taylor McFerrin - Daddy sang bass (and drums, you name it)
Taylor McFerrin laughs good naturedly when he hears his dad described as the coolest man on the planet. The older son of vocal sorcerer Bobby McFerrin, Taylor isn’t about to disagree with this assessment but he does remember an incident when the otherwise musically nurturing McFerrin senior took exception to some of the language on his son’s hip hop record collection and chucked the lot in the bin.
“It’s all good between us, though,” says McFerrin junior, who has been making waves of his own over the past decade on the New York music scene as a DJ, beatboxer and producer and who arrives in Glasgow at the end of this month to play a final night gig at Glasgow Jazz Festival. “My dad actually gave me his old keyboard when he got a new one a few years ago and that’s been a really important part of my musical development because although my main interest was creating beats, the fact that I was doing it on a keyboard forced me to learn scales and chords and not just work on music from the rhythmical aspect.”
The McFerrins’ respective musical interests may be a generation apart – Taylor’s associations include such New York scene makers as the splendidly named (he disagrees) Grandfather Ridiculous, Heart Foundation and El Maestro – but growing up in a family where music played an integral part of everyday life had a fundamental benefit, as Taylor explains.
“My folks were always listening to great soul music and people like Herbie Hancock and George Duke and it kind of set a standard for me,” he says. “I also grew up going to my dad’s shows. It meant a lot to me to watch him getting up onstage and doing his thing and having grown up in that environment, I immediately felt at home when it came to doing my own music for a crowd.”
For a while it didn’t look like Taylor was going to follow his dad into the family business. He started taking piano lessons before he went to school in Brooklyn and continued with them until he was twelve, when the family moved to Minneapolis.
“I pretty much forgot everything I’d learned and then a group of us at high school started getting together when we were about sixteen and I designated myself as the beat maker,” he says. “I had this basement space in the house and I got the bug for buying equipment and the whole thing took off for us. We’d play at parties and that sort of thing and by the time I got to college, I was spending more time creating beats than I was studying for exams. So I did two years, one in Boston, where I didn’t really feel that I fitted, and one in New York, where I was going to transfer to the jazz programme but I started doing shows and producing records for people and things got a bit crazy.”
After working on four or five projects at a time, including his own EP Broken Vibes from 2006, and finding that he worked too slowly to keep all these balls in the air successfully, he decided to concentrate on making his own music. In 2011, he released another EP, Place in My Heart, which became the precursor to his first full-length solo album, Early Riser, released in June last year.
“It took me three years to complete that album because I realised that I have issues with focusing,” he says. “It’s not that I have trouble coming up with ideas because I make music every day and I must have had somewhere between one hundred and two hundred song sketches that I was liking but not loving enough. I also wanted to sing, so I eventually gathered together forty songs and whittled them down to a group of tracks that fitted together.”
In the meantime he toured Australia with keyboard master Robert Glasper’s Experiment, which also featured vocalist Jose James on that trip, and through Glasper he was introduced to drummer Marcus Gilmore, who joins McFerrin on the European tour that brings him to Glasgow.
“I’ve been mostly touring solo over the past five years and while I enjoy that, it takes a lot of really deep concentration because it’s all me and I’m always aware that if I let my energy levels drop the audience will lose interest,” he says. “With Marcus I get to enjoy the show more because we feed off each other and it’s more relaxed, less pressure. He’s so quick on the uptake that we can go anywhere. We’ll be playing songs from Early Riser and quite probably coming up with ideas for my next album, because Marcus is going to be on that, and because Marcus is so spontaneous we can go into more of a jazz fusion style or just see where the music takes us.”
From The Herald, June 11, 2015.