One of the greatest things about music is when you discover something that you never even knew existed, and it turns out to be a wonderful piece of ear candy. I’m a big fan of Stevie Wonder – to be more specific, I’m a big fan of his music from the 1970’s. His 60’s Motown stuff is ok – “For Once in My Life,” “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day,” etc…I’m not a fan of his 80’s work and beyond. But those 70’s albums – Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life, Vol. 1 – are phenomenal works of R&B, funk and soul.
I have little knowledge of his very early career, when he was known as “Little Stevie.” The only experience I’d had was from seeing his performance of “Fingertips, Pt. 2” in TV clips. It’s a great tune, somewhat jazzy but more R&B-sounding. Until the other night I never had any inkling of curiosity as to whether there was a “part one” to “Fingertips.” Turns out there is! It’s from Wonder’s first album called “The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie,” recorded when he was only 11 years old. I bought the album, and it’s a marvelous addition to any jazz fan’s collection. Stevie co-wrote two of the songs, and plays all the drums, percussion, harmonica, piano and keyboards on the album…11 years old! This is a true jazz album – all instrumental as well, save for a few hoots and hollers on a couple of songs. “Fingertips” features great drumming as well as groovy horn playing. The flute is featured on this track and several others as well, which for some reason is distinctive to me as typical of 60’s jazz. “Square” features the classic Wonder harmonica sound, and “Soul Bongo” reeks of Puerto Rican-influenced salsa-style jazz. “Manhattan at Six” has a similar sound, featuring a percussion jam mixed with high energy piano work. “Paulsby” is light on its feet, with Stevie’s harmonica floating on the breeze, along with a nifty organ section. Things slow down a bit with “Some Other Time,” but kick back up with “Wondering,” featuring quick organ playing and some horn scatting. The album closes with two similar numbers, “Session Number 11” and “Bam.” Both have nice mellow jazz grooves, slinking through piano and harmonica exchanges, with some nice sax work on “Bam.”
It’s a short album, clocking in at just about 30 minutes, but for jazz fans and early Stevie Wonder fans, I’m calling it a must-have.
The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!