Tag Archives: standards

Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once In My Life’ Turns 50


Stevie Wonder turned 18 in 1968. This was a year when months made a  difference in daily life. And for music too. Wonder was still deeply involved in Motown’s assembly line musical approach. But his albums were starting to reflect more of his creative input and vision by the late 60’s. And on this album, he made major leaps forward musically. The title track  is a strong example-a funky uptown soul stomp that was originally a Broadway show tune from Man Of La Mancha. Wonder kept the melodramatic vibe of the song intact on this title song too. And it was the radio breakout here obviously.

Yet its on the slower tempo, deeply grooving funk of “Shoo Be Doo Be Doo Da Day” and the powerfully composed faster funk of “You Met Your Match” and “I Wanna Make You Love Me”-as well as the slower,brooding “Don’t Know Why” where Wonder hauls forth his Clavinet electric piano. Herein begins his mapping out the basic pattern for what would be his 70’s breakthroughs-still within the fairly traditional Motown context. Some songs showcase that  sound of the time with an emphasis on Wonder’s burgeoning songwriting.

“I’m More Than Happy (I’m Satisfied)” is a superb example on the uptempo end of that. “I’d Be A Fool Right Now” is actually one of my favorites here with its creamy orchestrations and strong song craft-easily could’ve been a Top 5 pop single in that regard. “Ain’t No Lovin'” and the breezy “Do I Love Her” have the same effect. Two covers-in the rather Dusty Springfield style take on “Sunny” and the big band arrangement of “God Bless The Child” round out this album album with it’s strongly funky closer “The House On The Hill”.

For Once In My Life musically spoke more to Stevie Wonder’s future than his past. Eight of its twelve songs were either written or co-written by him. And in many ways, it caps off what my friend Henrique and I call his “childhood career”. Funk had arrived during 1967 with James Brown and Sly Stone. And that was the basis of Wonder’s music here-especially with the Clavinet. Its also an important realizing that the funk genre itself was a process. And in terms of Motown and Stevie Wonder’s own artistry, For Once In My Life marked his ongoing journey into the funk genre of music.

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Kandace Springs Emerges As A Star On The Jazz Scene: An Article By Ron Wynn

Kandace Springs’ emerges as a star on jazz scene
By Ron Wynn

There’s so much fresh and exciting talent in Nashville these days across the idiomatic board folks sometimes miss performers operating outside the pop/rock universe. But exciting, versatile vocalist Kandace Springs is generating so much buzz courtesy of her new (June release) Blue Note LP “Soul Eyes” that she’s garnering widespread praise and considerable attention outside the usual arenas of specialty radio, jazz clubs and festivals.

Springs, who’ll be appearing this week at the City Winery, has always been surrounded and immersed in music. She’s the daughter of veteran Music City R&B/soul stylist Scat Springs, a popular fixture both locally and across the region, and the family’s musical involvement also includes her aunts, uncles, a grandfather, even two great-grandfathers. Her 2014 self-titled four-song EP was produced by Pop & Oak, whose past clients include Rihanna and Nicki Minaji. Springs appeared on such shows as “David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel,” while burning up the stage at both Bonnaroo and the AfroPunk festivals.

But despite her alluring, enticing delivery and impressive range ideal for the rhythmic tapestries urban and contemporary R&B producers prefer, Springs’ natural affinity for jazz, especially her flair with melodic interpretation and storytelling, were what resonated when Prince heard her version of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on the Okayplayer website. He not only invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” but urged her to follow her stylistic heart, rather than take the safe, more commercially viable, route.

The results can be heard throughout “Soul Eyes,” produced by Larry Klein. His forte is striking a balance for artists with a jazz foundation between adhering to the tradition’s mandates, yet finding ways of reaching wider audiences as previously demonstrated on sessions featuring Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell among others. This approach is evident most notably on the title track, which was written by pianist Mal Waldron. Waldron was formerly Billie Holiday’s pianist, and the tune was among her signature songs.

Springs’ version inserts a few more soulful flourishes while expertly navigating the originals’s prominent lengthy note turns and crisp phrases. With Terence Blanchard’s crackling trumpet soaring around and behind her inflections and expressive presentation, it’s a showcase for how an ace contemporary performer can update a classic tune without losing its flavor or altering its lyrical intent.

The evocative ballad “Rain Falling,” one of her compositions, displays both her writing style and ease at guiding a song through differing emotional stages, while her cover of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” reaffirms her ability to excel in a non-jazz framework. Another of Springs’ pieces “Too Good To Last,” has more of a blues edge in its story line,  reinforced by Blanchard’s brilliant trumpet accompaniment.

With guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris, organist Pete Kuzma and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta joining Blanchard in the strong musical corps behind her, Kandace Springs’ demonstrates on “Soul Eyes” she’s a most worthy addition to the ranks of topflight contemporary jazz vocalists, singers who adore and treasure the burden of mastering the Great American Songbook, but also have plenty to say to and for 21st century audiences.

 

(Kandace Springs appears this week at the City Winery).

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Filed under Dean Parks, Jazz, Kandace Springs, Larry Klein, Mal Waldron, Prince, Ron Wynn, soul jazz, standards, Terence Blanchard