Stevie Wonder Recomposition Project

About the project

Historically, it has been common and a tradition of jazz that musicians arrange existing musical pieces as part of their musical works. Many jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Sammy Nestico, Quincy Jones, Bill Holman, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer have chosen various pieces from the Great American Songs, Broadway musicals, folk songs and even classical pieces.  Some of those arranged jazz pieces now have become a part of jazz standards.

These days, modern jazz musicians have started arranging popular music from the 60’s and the 70’s. Herbie Hancock, a jazz pianist/composer who has played extensively with Miles Davis’ group in the 60’s, has released a Joni Mitchell tribute album in 2007. Fred Sturm, who is a recognized jazz composer, has produced a big band tribute album of Steely Dan. Also, the songs from The Beatles have been arranged often by many other jazz artists.

Stevie Wonder is not only one of the finest American song writers but also an artist/singer whose musical works receives the highest recognition and respect. His music crosses over many musical genres and has been significantly influential to various types of musicians. As a jazz composer/arranger, it has been valuable and inspiring for me to examine and explore some of Wonder’s compositional insights.

One of the musical goals I have explored in this arranging project is the usage of decomposition and recomposition of the melody. Jazz composers such as Jim McNeely, Fred Strum and Chuck Owen frequently use these arranging techniques. Decomposition is the process where composers examine the entire melody of a piece and find out the fundamental melodic ideas. Based on the decomposed melodies and the thorough analysis of intervallic tendencies of the melodic ideas, composers start adding and extending the motives for recomposition. Utilizing these arranging techniques, composers are not only capable of having more freedom to add their creativity into the pieces but also retain the flavors from the original pieces.

In addition to the decomposing/recomposing process, I have also explored to apply a different set of harmonic progressions to each piece. Examining Wonder’s original harmonic structures has broadened my perspectives of how much harmonies can change the musical flow as well as characterizing the entire piece. In each arrangement, I have utilized some of original Wonder’s harmonies as well as the ones that I have newly created.

My Cherry Amour 

Personnel: Bryan McEntire (tenor sax), Bobby Fuson II (alto sax), Dave Stams (trombone), Kara Baxter (voice), Masayoshi Ishikawa (piano), Aaron Stroessner (guitar), Jeff Utter (bass), Chris Varga (drums)

 

Overjoyed 

Personnel: Masayoshi Ishikawa (piano) Jeff Utter (bass), Chris Varga (vibes and drums)

 

Sir Duke

Personnel: Masayoshi Ishikawa (piano) Aaron Stroessner (guitar) Jeff Utter (bass), Chris Varga (drums)

 

Visions 

Personnel: Hanna Reitz (violin), Kara Baxter (violin), Becca Vieker (viola), Molly Rezich (cello), Bobby Fuson II (Alto Flute) Masayoshi Ishikawa (flute) Aaron Stroessner (guitar) Jeff Utter (bass), Nick Johnson (conga), Jason Ahl (percussions) Chris Varga (drums)

 

Stay Gold 

Personnel: Kara Baxter (voice), Molly Reizeich (cello), Masayoshi Ishikawa (piano), Jeff Utter (bass), Chris Varga (drums)

 

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Personnel: Mike Dee (alto sax) Brian Vuu (alto sax), Bryan McEntire (tenor sax), Wade Howles (tenor sax), Bobby Fuson II (baritone sax) Masayoshi Ishikawa (piano), Jeff Utter (electric bass), Chris Varga (drums)