the jazz soul of little stevie

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!

5 Responses to “the jazz soul of little stevie”

  1. March 1, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    I’ve heard parts of this record as well and it is amazing. The Stevie Wonder of the 70s is prodigeous and some of my favorite music. I have made a case for Fulfillingness being the great psychedelic album of our time — the way voices seem to appear and layer out of nowhere. Everything about that record is perfect, from the opening strains of “Smile Please” down to the remarkable coda and fadeout of “Please Don’t Go.”

  2. 2 ericstraus
    March 1, 2010 at 11:07 PM

    He is so overlooked as a producer, in my opinion. Those 70’s albums are all masterpieces of sound. I never thought of the psychedelia aspect of it, but that makes sense now! But speaking of that, I neglected to mention his final 70’s album “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” It’s such a trip – part Pink Floyd’s “Ummagumma” and part new age weirdness. But it’s awesome.

  3. March 2, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    What do you think of Hotter Than July? True, it’s not quite up to the standards of his 70s work but it’s still a great record. There are some great songs such as Did I hear you say you love me, All I Do, and Do I Do. It was around this period where he began to get into drum machines which was a real shame, considering how great a drummer (and keyboard bass player!) he was. Do you know if he plays all the instruments on Hotter Than July or did he have a band?

    Anyway, that’s a cutoff point with Stevie for me. There are some great moments in the 80s — the Spike Lee soundtrack from Jungle Fevor stands out — but he had lost that spark. He did so much at a young age. Incredible.

    • 4 ericstraus
      March 2, 2010 at 6:21 PM

      Hotter is also the most recent Stevie album I have. It’s ok – I love Master Blaster, and Happy Birthday is pretty emotional. I should probably listen to it more than I have.
      There were a number of musicians on that album, but of course he played like 30 different instruments.

  4. 5 keitho
    March 2, 2010 at 6:45 PM

    Those two were the hits and while they were pretty good songs I prefer the ones I mentioned before. And how could I have forgtten Lately — one of his most beautiful melodies. That one really holds up — I have heard it a few times in te past month.

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