To commemorate Michael Jackson's passing, Jet Insider Magazine conducted interviews with four people who personally worked with the King of Pop on his comeback tour-This Is It!
Well, tonight, I'd like to share with you a touching interview with Michael's musical director-Michael Bearden.
Take it way, Jet!
Q. Can you describe what it was like meeting Mike for the first time?
I actually met MJ back in 1993 in Mexico while I was working for Madonna. The first time I met MJ in a professional capacity was in 2001. I worked with him, his brothers and all the artists for the 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He was not at all what I thought he would be. Michael was easy to talk to, engaging and not as shy as I had heard. His brothers were around, so maybe he was in his comfort zone. I found him to be extremely professional and very detailed oriented. Michael knew what he wanted and how to get it, his talent speaks for itself.
Fast forward to 2009:
When I found out I was on the short list of music director hopefuls for MJ's tour, surprisingly I was somewhat reluctant. I had been the music director for so many big stars in my career and wanted to pursue other musical endeavors closer to home.
However, when it's Michael Jackson calling you have to at least explore the possibilities. First I met with the “This Is It” director Kenny Ortega; we had a great meeting and he invited me back down that evening to meet with MJ. I asked that there be keyboards in the room when MJ and I met. When they finally brought MJ in to see me I was already playing around on the keyboard, he walked in smiling broadly with pep in his step.
Instantly, he started dancing and swaying to me playing his song "Working Day and Night". We hugged and began talking about what he was looking for and I told him what I was looking for. I interrupted him several times to have him sing songs as I played them, to his credit he did, and we had a great bond immediately. We did a concert for about a half hour just me and him-lol.
As I was leaving I asked him for the set list and he just laughed. They were looking at a few more guys after me. he said God bless you and I left the room. I wasn't even home good before I got the call to be his musical director. My life was about to be transformed forever.
Q. What do you think people would be most surprised to know about him?
I think most people would be surprised to know that MJ was very well read and very much into current events. He knew what was going on in the world and could speak in depth about various topics of the day. I think because he was a prisoner of his fame, people thought he was a recluse and I’m sure he was to a certain extent. However, I’ve actually seen him get out of his car to hug fans after rehearsal and take photos and sign autographs with great openness and appreciation. Although he had a lot of security around him everywhere he went, he loved people and he loved life.
Another thing I think the fans would be surprised to know about MJ is that his trademark soft voice could actually go pretty low. He shocked me one day in rehearsal as he was testing his microphone. He was speaking in this very low, southern twang accent...I didn't see him do it at first and thought one of my singers was goofing around. When I looked up from the keyboard, I saw it was MJ. He cracked up when he saw me because I looked so shocked.
Q. It's been a year since his death, is it still so surreal to you? Why?
MJ's passing is still very surreal to me because I, like many people around the world, grew up with Michael Jackson. I never even thought of being in the world without MJ. He’s like a part of daily life-like air and water.
I was with him so much during the preparation of the “This Is It” tour. We spent many, many hours working on giving the world the best show imaginable. When it all stopped I jumped right into the memorial and then directly into making the film with Kenny Ortega and Travis Payne. After that, I went directly into my current job as musical director for George Lopez's late night talk show "Lopez Tonight."
I've never really had the proper time to deal with it. It's still very difficult for me to listen to certain MJ songs. I'm not sure when or if I’ll get back to the way I was before he passed. I just embrace the love and celebrate the time I did have with him.
Q. You were with him the night before he died. What were your thoughts as he left the building?
I was actually the last one from the company to see Michael as we left rehearsal.
I will never forget my last moments with MJ. I was with him most of the day going over many different elements of the show with him and Kenny. Travis was busy working with the dancers and tech people. He had a little light dinner as we looked at the video elements that were being prepared for the show.
The meeting was serious as all of the money people were there and MJ was giving his final approval on everything. He still found time to be silly while all of this was happening. He leaned over to me at one point and whispered in my ear, "who's your favorite 3 stooges?" I was cracking up because we were supposed to be concentrating on the business. I told him as he was talking to the people about the video and then he would lean over and whisper, "yeah, I like him too but my favorite is..."Lol...That was MJ.
After that meeting we hit the stage. It was late. We worked until 11:30 or so, maybe a little later. MJ was amazing that night! He had full command of the stage and he seemed to be able to will his feet to do whatever he wanted. At one point he looked back at me as if to say yeah, I'm Michael freakin' Jackson! I got this! We're about to take the people on a journey they've never been on before. I'm back!
As I was leaving Staples Center that evening, I had to wait for MJ before I could leave as his car and security team were blocking my car. I was extremely tired but I had to wait for the boss. When he arrived to get into the car, I teased him about blocking me in. He laughed and hugged me. He said he felt great tonight. I told him he looked great and sounded great, too. He said God bless you as he often did and smiled that MJ smile.
I asked what time he was coming in and he said around 2 PM with Travis. I told him have a good night and we shook hands as he told me he loved me. I replied the same way and said see you tomorrow. Although I never saw him again physically he's been with me every day of my life since then and will be until we meet again.
Q. Do you think this would have really been his last tour?
Yes! It would have been his last tour for sure!
However, that didn't mean it was going to be over after our 2 year run at the O2 in London. He was starting to feel really good on the stage and having a great time performing. One day he expressed to me that he thought he might want to extend the tour 3 to 5 years. Maybe pick up and start over in another country. He did say he didn't want to go too much longer than that. He would have been 55 at the end of 'This Is It' if it all went well.
Q. What impact has his death had on you and the way you live your own life?
MJ's passing has transformed me forever. Moreover, his living had already changed me considerably. What could have been deemed corny by some who weren't as open as MJ, his constant talk of service and philanthropy and love for fellow man had a big major impact on the way I live my life today.
I've embraced more of a service oriented focus in the way I approach my art. Everything I’m involved in now has to have a social redemptive value to it. He had many talks with me about humility and gratitude and I feel as if I’ve been validated by one of the greatest if not the greatest entertainer of my lifetime. There is something to be said for choosing to live your life by embracing love and making all of your daily choices in that light. It's been a very powerful awakening for me.
Q.What's your funniest memory of Mike?
Besides the "three stooges" moment and the low country voice I mentioned earlier, one of the funniest moments I’ve had with MJ, and there were many as he was very silly, was when he and I had a conversation about grits...lol...Here we are in his room at rehearsal talking over business and we get sidetracked into a back and forth about grits. What to put on them, where to get the best, and what city has the best, etc. His youngest son Blanket was looking at me and MJ like we were crazy. MJ tried to explain to him what they were. He just dissed both of us and went back to his spider man action figure. MJ and I had a good time that day.
Q. How do you think he'd like to be remembered?
It's always difficult to answer these types of questions because one is forced to guess what's in a person’s mind and spirit. However, I can say with almost 100% certainty that it would have something to do with saving the planet. Healing the world and the part he played in helping to achieve that goal.
Q. How will you commemorate this anniversary?
Answer I will not commemorate it at all. I was there with him almost every day during the last days of his life. I lived it. This is an anniversary that is with me every day since it happened. I will do what I do every day I’m blessed to be upright on the planet. I'll say what I’m grateful for that day, I'll try to make someone's day better, and I'll probably talk to MJ in my own way and tell him I love and miss him. That's pretty much what I do everyday anyway. It's all for L.O.V.E.