Bryan Ferry talks Bowie at Museum of Contemporary Art

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ABOVE: Bryan Ferry performed at The Henley Festival on July 9. | Photo by Zak Hussein/Getty Images

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

In pop music, Bryan Ferry’s name conjures images of the dashing gentleman. Elegance, sophistication, and a hint of the playboy come to mind. Above everything, however, are his songs and singular voice. Ferry’s heart-melting croon on classics like solo hit “Slave to Love” and Roxy Music’s “More Than This” have made the hardest rockers swoon. He also holds tremendous influence from his time at the forefront of the ‘70s glam-rock movement.

Ferry visits Chicago for a string of activities this week. His tour begins with its public opening at the Chicago Theatre on Sunday. Before that, he’ll participate in events associated with Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and its David Bowie Is exhibition running from September 23 through January 4.

Wednesday night’s MCA Talk will feature conversation between Ferry and author Michael Bracewell, whose work includes examinations of Roxy Music within the context of contemporary art and fashion. The pair will discuss fame, creative inspiration, and Ferry’s active role in the evolution of pop music. “The meaning of life, in other words,” says Ferry with a laugh.

Asked about preparation for such a comprehensive overview, Ferry responds, “I think it’s best to be spontaneous, but I think I know vaguely the sort of thing he’ll be asking me. We did something similar at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London several years ago, and more recently in Berlin. We may show a few photographs and film clips.”

The Victoria and Albert Museum developed the “David Bowie Is” program that Ferry’s MCA Talk helps to launch. Ferry missed the exhibit in London. “I get a chance to see it on this trip,” he says. “That should be very interesting. It was very successful in London.”

BRYAN FERRY AND MICHAEL BRACEWELL 6 to 7 p.m. Sept. 17; SOLD OUT Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Visit mcachicago.org

Bowie once named Ferry as his favorite singer. As Bowie was releasing his own groundbreaking 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” he claimed that England’s best music was being made by Roxy Music.

“We performed with him on a couple of occasions in ’73,” says Ferry. “He had been going for some time, and we were new kids on the block. Bowie was very supportive.”

Bowie later covered Roxy’s “If There is Something” with his band Tin Machine. “We’re doing that song in the current show,” says Ferry. “It seems to be popular even though it was never a single. For what it’s worth, it’s Kate Moss’ favorite record. She even asked me to perform it at her wedding a couple of years ago.” (Supermodel Moss was featured on the cover of Ferry’s 2010 album “Olympia.”)

Ferry’s album “Avonmore” arrives in November, overflowing with passionate but unfulfilled longing. Songs like the sleek “Driving Me Wild” and tender “A Special Kind of Guy” are populated by characters searching for love that remains elusive. The low, percolating funk of “One Night Stand” describes a fling that isn’t enough. It seems these poor souls may never find happiness.

“I’ve always found that the most interesting songs are sad songs,” says Ferry. “They’re introspective, personal and deeply felt. People everywhere can relate.”

Ferry is a noted interpreter of song with collections of standards and Dylan covers to his credit. Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” gets a makeover for the 21st century on “Avonmore,” replete with Bollywood strings and continental grace.

“It’s a song that always intrigued me,” says Ferry. “There are lots of versions flying around, but the one I can think of that I’d heard was by Frank Sinatra. To occasionally do something from a musical is a good idea. I always loved watching movie musicals – the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly ones, especially.”

Ferry’s elemental gift is his mesmerizing voice. As it has matured, it has gained deepening ability to communicate honesty, brokenness and connection. Ferry appreciates his evolving instrument. “It gets better in many ways,” he says. “There are things that you find that you can’t do as you get older, but there are many other things you find that you can do.”

On Saturday, Ferry performs at MCA’s artEdge fundraising gala. The stage and décor will be modeled after New York’s infamous Studio 54 nightclub. Ferry remembers the hot spot from its heyday.

“It was a fascinating mixture when New York was really buzzing,” says Ferry. “So many different kinds of people were there on any given night. It was very special during the Warhol years.”

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