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Taylor McFerrin is setting the musical mood for JoeSam. exhibit at the MoAD

Taylor McFerrin singing into a microphone next to his father Bobby McFerrin who wears a bright yelllow shirt and is also singing into a microphone. they're at the blue note music fesitval
Blue Note Festival
Taylor McFerrin performs with his father Bobby McFerrin at the 2023 Blue Note Jazz Festival in Napa.

For their current exhibition JoeSam.:Text Messages, the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco thought the music of Taylor McFerrin would make a good pairing. It was mainly because of the family connection: JoeSam. created the cover art for one of Bobby McFerrin’s, Taylor’s father, albums. But the pairing also makes sense because of the atmospheric jazz- and soul-infused electronic music that the younger McFerrin is known for weaving.

Co-hosted with SFJAZZ, the show takes place this Saturday, January 27 at the MoAD. Read our conversation with McFerrin to find out what to expect from the show.

How did the gig at the MoAD come about? 

JoeSam. — it's funny because I went to school with his daughter -- he did a cover art for one of my dad's albums called Medicine Music. He was a family friend. So it was actually a personal connection to the artist. And I've done a bunch of shows with SFJazz, and I think they also know what my shows are like. So it was, you know, one degree of separation.

How do you think about building a set around this? Do you focus your set around the art or is it independent of it?

I think the sets can be mostly improvised based on the vibe of the art and the space and the audience. I do a lot of different versions of shows. Sometimes I play completely solo like this one. I have songs that I can perform from my two albums and some other projects. But usually, when it's like a chill, quiet space, I actually like to improvise and just feed off of the energy of the crowd. I DJed for a while and it's like, you always have the best results if you just kind of get a sense of what's going to work in the space and just go with it, as opposed to trying to force what you think your show should be.

Improvisation sometimes seems scary because what if you don’t like the direction you go in or you can see that the crowd is not picking up the vibe? 

It's scary, but it's a good energy and a lot of it is like, if you start giving out a vibe that you're freaking out on stage, that's usually when it starts getting bad. The other thing is I always have songs that I can fall back on. I'll have elements of those in my set that I can bring in at any time. So if it's going a little off the rails, I can be like, all right, let me pivot into something that has more of a base.

So you obviously grew up around music, but did you know you were going to go in this sort of experimental, electronic, jazz direction? It's not that removed from your dad and your sister as well, but were you resistant to music growing up, and then when you started making your own was this the direction that you knew you were going in? 

it's been a long process. I didn't feel like I was necessarily doing what my dad did as a kid. I was really into hip-hop and I was just trying to make beats that my friends would enjoy. And that was kind of an introversion into myself with my headphones on process. I wasn't singing and I wasn't performing as a kid. So I got into it thinking I was going to do the instrumental side of things.

I think the crossover in terms of vibe with what my dad did was when I really got into music, I got into Stevie and Isley brothers and Herbie Hancock stuff, and that's what my dad grew up on. Most of the producers in the hip-hop world that I was into were sampling that era of music.

So there was kind of like a crossover in terms of me and my dad ended up having the same kind of musical influences. And then when I started doing shows and I would do a lot of improv solo stuff I think the big influence from my dad was feeling comfortable improvising.

Do you have anything else that you're working on? Are you just kind of living this free creative life, which sounds nice?

Yeah, I have a new album. I can't talk about it too much. I should have finished it a couple of years ago, probably, but this will be the year it comes out. I just moved to a bigger studio space. So I'm looking to do two projects relatively quick back to back. It's actually the 10-year anniversary of my album Early Riser, so I might be doing special, something special around that this year as well.

Do you have anything else to add?

I'm looking forward to the show. My family's all going to be there, so it'll be a special night. I grew up in San Francisco, so every time I play there, it's a little bit extra special and it's cool that part of something that is celebrating JoeSam. because even though I haven't seen him in years, it feels great to reconnect with family-friend history in San Francisco.

Taylor McFerrin - 'Degrees Of Light'