Stevie Wonder began his musical career at just 11 years old, and from the get-go, his love of jazz became a central part of his sound. In 1962, a year into his contract with Motown Records, he released The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, on which he played bongos, harmonica, drums, and the organ. At age 12, he sounded like a jazz veteran.
A little more than a decade later, Stevie Wonder would proclaim his love for jazz in one of his most iconic songs, “Sir Duke.” The track was released on Songs in the Key of Life — an album that is considered a landmark achievement in American music.
“Sir Duke” is an ode to Stevie Wonder’s biggest heroes, Duke Ellington and the jazz artists who shaped his musical education. Wonder illustrates his love for jazz not just in the lyrics but also within the arrangement, melody, rhythm, and harmony. To break down this song and dig into the jazz theory that defines “Sir Duke,” I talked to Stevie Wonder’s greatest fan, musician Jacob Collier.
Collier is a songwriter, composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist from the UK who, like Wonder, uses jazz as a tool to surprise and delight his audience. In the video above, Collier explains just how Wonder pays homage to the jazz pioneers that came before him.