Why do so many Stevie Wonder songs sound great when played in a jazz style?
Maybe it’s his harmonies, which include jazzy 9ths and 13ths, as well as ii/V/I progressions and the like.
Or perhaps it’s his rhythms, which include the same latin and funk grooves that many jazz musicians use in their own tunes.
It might even be his vocal phrasing, which sounds as improvisatory as Ella Fitzgerald singing the Great American Songbook.
Whatever it is, jazz musicians have always loved Stevie’s music and in fact, the original Real Book included two of his compositions which are still in the newer editions.
Yes, you can open The Real Book , Vol. 1, and find leadsheets for “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “Golden Lady.” Both are pop classics that can be successfully used as vehicles for jazz improvisation. In this sense, Wonder is part of a lineage of classic songwriters who write catchy melodies that inspire improvisational creativity, just like Gershwin, Ellington, and all the others before him.
Here are two solo jazz piano renditions of Stevie Wonder songs, to give you some ideas on how to approach his music pianistically and with improvisation:
Chick Corea: Pastime Paradise
Ron Drotos: Golden Lady
Enjoy exploring the musical universe of Stevie Wonder. He has a lot to offer us improvisers!
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