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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stevie Wonder Sits in With Jazz Mafia

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 10:15 AM

Stevie Wonder sits in at Coda - BILL EVANS
  • Bill Evans
  • Stevie Wonder sits in at Coda
What would you do if Stevie Wonder showed up unannounced to your gig?

Would you lose it, knowing that one of the most respected artists of our time was in the building? Or would you just do what you do - jazz music with a whole lot of soul and a touch of funk?

For the Jazz Mafia crew, the latter proved the best option when Mr. Wonderful himself arrived unannounced, with no entourage in sight, at their gig at Coda September 27th. JM don Adam Theis reports that Wonder arrived a bit hungry--for food and for music. The kitchen was closed, so another nearby spot was recommended, though "Chris Pastena (Coda's owner and chef) would have opened the kitchen for him," Theis says. Sometime later, Stevie returned to check out the JM's set--not because he had a show that night or was in town on business, but because he wanted to hear some live music.

"It was a crazy night," Theis says, even before Stevie came in during the JM's second set. Though he admits to feeling a little nervous, Theis and the JM crew continued about their business, while Wonder got his groove on. "Every time I looked up, he was bobbing his head," Theis recalls. "He was really feeling it by his body language."

Then, the JM played their hole card--John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," sung by Joe Begale, but based on the Donny Hathaway version, which has a different arrangement. "We played the whole song," Theis says, "and all of a sudden people are rushing up with cameras. I look up, and Stevie's body guards were bringing him to the stage."

Stevie said a few words of encouragement to the crowd, telling them how blessed they were to be able to hear live music performed with such verve--or something to that effect-."He gave a little sermon," Theis says. "We wound that down and figured that was it. It was like, 1:50 in the morning."

But Wonder was just getting started. The JM segued into "All Day Sucker," a little-known tune from the Songs in the Key of Life album, and Wonder began to sing. Then they played "I Can't Help It," a song Stevie wrote for Michael Jackson. At that point, Theis says, "everybody knew, this is a rare event." (A YouTube video of Wonder onstage is here).

For vocalist Joe Bagale, "it was, without a doubt, the best moment of my life."

Theis was still agog over the visit days later - he blogs about it on Facebook - and trying to take it all in. But one thing's for certain: Wonder can drop in anytime. The blessing can only help Coda as well, a new jazz-oriented club which had been struggling a bit on weekends (though Theis reports the Tuesday nights have been going well).

If you'd like to bask in the afterglow, the next scheduled Jazz Mafia performance is tonight (Tuesday Sept. 29) at Coda, featuring guest vocalist Shayna Steele.

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Eric Arnold

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